The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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May 2019

St Matthew Passion - review

Suzanne Pinkerton

To the parish church to hear fine music, as Mr Pepys would no doubt have said, had this been written in his lifetime.  Bach’s monumental St Matthew Passion is definitely a challenge for performers and audience – too much, in fact, for some of the congregation’s more elderly members, of which I  am one, but inspired by the RAM’s next opera by Janáček, in which the main female character is Vixen Sharp Ears, I decided to take this as my Nom-de-plume, be there, and keep writing.

I was interested in the notes Peter Foggitt had written in the programme about whether the piece is a dramatic work, or, is it a piece for the opera theatre?   On a recent visit to English Touring Opera’s production of “Dido and Aeneas” the extensive programme included what was coming next, and indeed, they apparently perform it with different singers doing different roles and so on, in cathedrals.  I personally hadn’t experienced it done, as it was in Hampstead, with so many different soloists. As Peter mentioned, they wore their own clothes (Oratorio Black) and sang from scores – and we had intervals.

This gave the air of a concert and therefore brought up another issue which I would have thought of, whether I were writing this or not.  If you did not know the singers, it wasn’t possible to work out who was singing what.  Of course you wouldn’t expect to find out on Sunday mornings but I thought, perhaps a discreet way of telling us could be, in the very helpful programme, to mention the names in the numbered list the first time the person sang something.  Perhaps this wasn’t decided in time.

I can help you with some of them.  Alexander Jones was an imposing presence as Christus.  And I can help with The Three Tenors.  James Robinson is a familiar face to you now, having even rushed to the rescue one time when somebody was ill and unable to appear.  Our very own Aidan Coburn was in full voice, and the remaining tenor, to my delight, was old RAM friend William Blake. I am much more used to seeing Will being adorably funny in opera, specially if physical comedy is needed - (send Will to swing from the chandelier!) – and I am pleased to be able to report he will be doing more of this in Brussels in Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” in the summer.  He’s studied German – it showed as the Evangelist, which he shared with James so that we got the full drama from both of them.  An interesting combination.

It was real pleasure to see the Junior Choir taking part, and all in German too.  They’ve been doing some really nice work on Sundays.

The mezzo who sang the aria known as “Have mercy my God” caught my ear  but I cannot tell you who she was.  With about a dozen singers who know what they’re doing, the big moments, as in the cry of “Barabbas!” were really effective.  I only wish I could have given them more individual credit.

And I must mention what refers to itself as The Band.  Baroque strings and woodwind – lovely!  We even had a (huge) violone, the double bass’s ancestor, adding its rich chocolate sound, and did I see a curly oboe di caccia peeping out?  It was a shame that Peter’s playing on the modern but beautifully decorated harpsichord got rather lost in the space above him, but we had David Moore on organ to help out.  I hope some of these players will be on hand to provide the Devotional Music on Good Friday.

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