The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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May 2017

St Matthew Passion

Suzanne Pinkerton

Being asked to review a mighty structure like the St Matthew Passion is rather like being asked to abseil down the West Front of Wells Cathedral or similarm  and as I plague the RAM box office, and others with “Not the balcony!” I hope to be more courageous with this!

It is not surprising that our performances of oratorios are being well attended.  I’ve spoken of it before but since James Sherlock introduced us to Ensemble Passio the performers, and the audience, have had such a lift.  You don’t necessarily expect to walk into a parish church, however beautiful and grand, and hear violin obbligato from a player of Alison Bury’s quality, or rich cello continuo from so experienced a player as Richard Tunnicliffe.  And the team  has an international flavour when you look down the names.  You are moving across the map of Europe.

Before I leave the orchestra, I’d like to say a few words about the players of the future.  At the Royal Academy of Music, where I’m on the Museum Team, the baroque department is small, but spirited. The reason is a lack of scholarships or funding for students in this field.  At the moment, the audience receives an appeal leaflet at Baroque concerts. If anyone has any ideas the RAM may not have thought of, do let me know.  Meanwhile, our French young ladies will play on and I would take off at least one of my hats to Freddie from Texas, with his bass sackbut!

But it’s high time for the singers to step forward.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - we are fortunate to have Paul Robinson as our Evangelist.  Because he sounds so involved in the drama, and so caring, and many of us know he is a Hampstead dweller, you can almost visualize he is telling us about something where he, or someone he knows, was there -  “They had supper at my brother-in-law’s inn, you know.  He brought in the wine himself.”

We had ten singers for the ensembles.  All of them were soloists at some point.  It was a nice idea to have brought back several who have left for various reasons - good to be reminded of Rachel Ambrose-Evans’ and Julia Featherstone’s pure style, while we had two new additions, Josephine Stephenson, seen last year on Proms Extra for her work as a composer, and Julian Gregory, who I don’t think has sung for us before.  Martin Oxenham certainly has, and was as reliable as ever.  Aidan Coburn, our long-term tenor, has now been around long enough to have a 30th birthday (Happy Birthday, Aidan!) which he was quite justifiably celebrating, so James Robinson, who has worked for us before, was there, and we were pleased to welcome him back.

Christine Buras, soon to sing the Sidwell Memorial Recital, showed us another side to her work, which is always interesting.  Katherine Nicholson was particularly warm and moving - her voice has come on a lot in the last year - and we were able to contrast female alto and counter-tenor again, because Robin Tyson came back to us to lend his long-term expertise to the line-up.  We had one notable change in casting.  This year Nicholas Mogg sang Christus. Nicholas is our ever-versatile baritone - outside the church door he is as happy drawing his audience in singing Lieder in the Wigmore Hall, or bounding round the stage at the Hackney Empire, with glitter in his beard, as Jupiter in Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers” as he is in Oratorio.  His performance of the arias he was given to sing, and his very expressive Christus, culminating in a heart-wrenching “Eloi eloi, lama sabacthani” which impressed even the orchestra, showed why he is an award-winning singer.  We hope there will be many more evenings like this, and we were glad to be able to show Jeremy and Julia, our new occupants of the Vicarage, what we can do.

Until the next one.........

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