from the Henley Standard, March 2009
Wokingham Choral Society gave a fine performance of Bach's St John Passion in the Great Hall of Reading University on Saturday, 21 March.
This is the more dramatic of Bach's two Passions, the works together representing the pinnacle of achievement in that musical form. Scored for orchestra and continuo, with recitatives, ariosos and arias for six soloists and choruses and chorales for the choir, the ensemble affords wonderful scope for variety of texture and emotion.
The Musical Director of the Society, Alexander Chaplin, marshalled these resources with sensitivity and precision to exploit the musical riches of the work to the full. The choir contrasted impressively between the choruses in which the crowd bayed for Christ's life and the chorales which provided a compassionate commentary on the unfolding events culminating in the Crucifixion.
The Evangelist as narrator, beautifully sung by John Bowley, carried the score along at a gripping pace, and Paul Carey Jones was a sonorous and deeply moving Jesus. The other solo parts provided alternating light and shade. Jonathan Gunthorpe was an authoritative, but not unlikeable Pontius Pilate, and was especially effective in the Mein teurer Heiland, with the choir singing restrainedly in the background. Sarah Redgwick provided an interlude of charm with Ich folge dir gleichfalls, the counter-tenor, James Laing, captured the contrasts within Es ist vollbracht and James Edwards the desolation of Mein Herz perfectly. The closing sequences of the work were particularly moving, with the last gentle chorale becoming suffused with optimism.
The playing throughout was balanced and expressive, with the exception of a wayward organist, and the Society's Christopher Cromar was superb, as usual, at the harpsichord.
This concert further endorses Wokingham Choral Society as a leading exponent of the choral repertoire in this part of the world. The next concert, Summertime, Music for a Summer's Evening, will be held at All Saints Church, Wokingham on Saturday 13 June 2009. In the autumn there will be a performance of the Messiah, not to be missed, again at the Great Hall, Reading University.