Wednesday, 18 August 2010

St. John Passion

To the Albert Hall last night to hear the late-night Prom, the BBC Singers and Endymion under conductor David Hill doing Arvo Pärt's St. John Passion. The Proms marketing has consistently called last night's work the St. John Passion so I was a little unclear as to whether we were going to hear another work by Pärt that I didn't know. Of course, it was the familiar one which I know under the name Passio, which is of course a shortening of the work's full Latin title Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Joannem.

Surprisingly the hall was by no means full. Despite the composer's popularity the work does have a somewhat uncompromising austereness and some of the people around us seemed to find the work a little too much (in fact there was quite a stream of promenaders leaving).

Brindley Sherratt sang Jesus with admirable firmness, authority and restraint. Andrew Kennedy as Pilate seem to want to be taking part in a slightly more operatic version of the score, which as I understand it goes against the composer's wish to create a more ritual atmosphere.

The four Evangelists were Micaela Haslam, David Allsopp, Stephen Jeffes and Stephen Charlesworth. All four were admirably accurate and musical, each turning in beautifully focussed and crafted vocal lines and blending nicely. My only complaint was that Haslam seemed rather quiet. Having heard him at the London Handel Festival, I was again very impressed with David Allsopp's beautiful high counter-tenor voice.

But...

I must confess that there were times that I had a certain sympathy with the fidgeters. The performance seemed to plod somewhat. Was it that the requirements of doing the piece in the cavernous Albert Hall was too much (though the work has been performed at the Proms before). Or was it simply that David Hill was too content to let things happen and not imbue the piece with more intensity. The BBC Singers were admirable in their effectiveness and dynamism in the the short choral interjections.

I can't help feeling that Passio is a relatively small scale work which would benefit from performance in a smaller venue.

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