REVIEW: St John Passion at St James’ Church

A LARGE audience in St James’ Church, Louth, enjoyed a thrilling performance by Louth Choral Society of Bach’s St John Passion.

The choir was accompanied by the Eastern Sinfonia and an impressive line-up of professional soloists.

From the dramatic orchestral opening, the expectation was high, and we were not disappointed when the choir entered, full of power, clarity and definition, with firm attack and dramatic intent.

Indeed this was the beginning of a truly memorable evening - intense, moving, dramatic and compelling.

The role of the choir in this work is very demanding and Louth Choral Society showed themselves to be well up to the task.

All voices found a cutting edge to their sound, appropriate both to the mood of the subject matter and to the contrapuntal texture of Bach’s writing.

At times the effect was thrilling.

Apart from the obvious role played by conductor Martin Pickering, the success of the occasion owed a great deal to tenor Mark Wilde, singing the pivotal role of the Evangelist.

Adept at varying the pace and mood of his recitatives, he led the appreciative audience through the story with enormous aplomb and great clarity, bringing a range of appropriate colours to his voice.

He was ably supported by continuo players Anthony Pinel and Ian Sharpe.

Stephen Clay sang the role of Jesus, with a quartet of soloists; Ruth Jenkins (soprano), Katie Bray (contralto), Samuel John Furness (tenor) and Marcus Farnsworth (bass). All played their part, with Marcus Farnsworth especially outstanding in the role of Pilate.

The Eastern Sinfonia, led by Ray Sidebottom, provided fine instrumental support.

In particular there was some deeply moving flute and oboe playing, notably in the final soprano aria ‘O heart, melt in weeping’.

It is a tribute to all the performers that by the time the final chorus and chorale had been sung, the audience was in no doubt not only about the genius of the composer, but also about the weight of the story that had been told. Congratulations are due to Louth Choral Society, Martin Pickering and to all who made the performance possible.

Review by Martin Priestley.

* Louth Choral Society is the area’s largest mixed voice choir. The choir rehearses on Mondays at 7.30pm in the Salvation Army Hall in Queen Street in Louth (opposite the Bus Station) and new members are always welcome.

The next concert on July 3 will be a performance of songs from hit Broadway and West End musicals.