This Friday, Good Friday (14th April) is our annual free performance of Bach's towering St John Passion. It starts at 7.30pm and, for the fifth year running, we have a fabulous professional orchestra to accompany the choir. The choir is in excellent voice and it promises to be as good a performance as ever. Please tell all your friends and encourage them to come along. We truly believe this annual event to be one of the major musical events in Essex.
From the first notes of the opening chorus, the congregation at the first performance of Bach's St John Passion in Leipzig in 1742, must have known that this was going to be a very different version of the story.
Bach follows the Passion story exactly as Luther had translated it; giving the role of narrator to a tenor soloist (the Evangelist) and those of Jesus and Pilate to bass soloists. The other “bit” parts were distributed between soprano and tenor voices. This was uncontroversial and completely usual. What was unusual, was giving voice to bystanders at the crucifixion, who take time to reflect or meditate on the tremendous events unfolding before their eyes. Thus the first soprano aria is perhaps the words of the “other youth” who went with Jesus and SimonPeter into the garden of Gethsemane. In a further departure, Bach invites the congregation to join in with the drama by singing chorales (hymns); not to the words which Luther had written, but to texts which take up the theme of precise moments in the drama. The congregation are thus not mere listeners but active participants. And what a drama it is to be participants of. The chorus parts are so dramatic that they are often truly alarming. In that opening chorus they are greeting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour; yet the relentless and disturbing string motif with aching wind suspensions above, creates an immediate sense of unease. The chorus may be hailing Jesus but we know this will not end well. Indeed, just moments later, the chorus becomes the High Priest's followers trying to catch him out. One moment they are Pilate's soldiers hailing him, sarcastically, as King of the Jews; the next the rabble crying out for his crucifixion full of pure venom. Small wonder Bach's original congregation was so discomfited. This is music designed to make you think; to make you feel uncomfortable. Yet, in so doing, it is music that makes real the events of those few days in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.