Bach: Johannes-Passion

J S Bach: Johannes-Passion
Collegium Vocale Gent, Philippe Herreweghe
Outhere/PHI LPH031. 2CDs 107’08

 

Cover of CD of Herreweghe Bach Johannes Passion

I can often predict the way in which a performance of the Johannes-Passion is going to develop by the manner in which the opening instrumental bars are performed. The texture appears simple. Swirling low strings underpinned by the repetitive pulse of continuo bass, with two oboes slowly intertwining dissonance-laden melodic lines above them. It is one of those passages of music that can be interpreted in many ways, resulting in differing moods ranging from sinister, threatening, mysterious, to gently calming. Continue reading

BBC Proms: Reformation Day

BBC Proms: Reformation Day
Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
Prom 48: A Patchwork Passion
Prom 49: Bach’s St John Passion
Royal Albert Hall, 20 August 2017

Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
William Whitehead, Robert Quinney, organ

The BBC Proms’ acknowledgement of the anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation came with three concerts on Sunday 20 August, starting with a lunchtime organ recital featuring the premieres of three pieces from The Orgelbüchlein Project played by its founder/director, the organist William Whitehead. The programme opened and closed with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat (from the Clavierübung III, BWV 552), played by Robert Quinney (who also played Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata in A major (Op. 65/3)). It also included the fourth of Schumann’s Fugues on B-A-C-H and two of Bach’s own Orgelbüchlein chorale preludes played by William Whitehead and, just before the final Bach Fugue, Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s ‘Prelude to the Grand Organ Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach’: a duet for both organists. Continue reading

Bach: St John Passion

Bach: St John Passion
Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell
Avie AV2369. 2CDs 33’08+74’34.

This recording stems from a series of semi-staged performances in Cleveland and New York in March 2016. Videos of extracts of a live event can be viewed here. The project was referred to as ‘A Dramatic Presentation’, and involved the main protagonists singing from memory to each other and the audience, who were treated as part of the crowd in some of the turbo choruses, with half the choir moving from the stage to stand by the audience, notably during the scenes with Pilatus. A timely reminder, perhaps, of The immediacy and emotional intensity of the live performances can only be imagined from the recording, but the directness and strength of feeling remains. Continue reading

Bach Shafted!

Bach: St John Passion
Hieronymus
Thames Tunnel Shaft, Rotherhithe.  11 April 2015.

This must be one of the most bizarre musical venues I have ever been in, and an extraordinary place to hear one of Bach’s most sacred works. Between 1825/43, Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom constructed a tunnel under the Thames between Rotherhithe and Wapping, the first of its kind in the world. In order to construct the tunnel, they sank a 15m diameter shaft on the south side of the river in Rotherhithe. With the addition of stairs, this shaft later became the pedestrian entry to the tunnel, but was closed when the tunnel started taking trains rather than pedestrians. The Thames Tunnel is now an active part of London’sWP_20150411_19_23_30_Pro railway system, and the shaft has been re-opened with a concrete floor inserted to separate it from the trains below. It is currently only accessible by wriggling through a 1.3m high entrance and clambering about 12m down on some rickety scaffolding stairs. Continue reading