J S Bach and St John Passion

Review of Cirencester Choral Society’s Bach St John Passion Concert
Cirencester Parish Church 8 April 2017


Easter is my annual excuse to over-indulge in Bach. Fortunately, unlike chocolate, Bach is good for you, and Cirencester Choral Society’s performance of the St John Passion in our Parish Church last week was life-enhancing for the capacity audience.

The St John was Bach’s first passion, and requires only a smaller orchestra. It was a special treat to have the period instruments of the Corelli Orchestra in support of the choir.

A Passion combines story-telling with opportunity for reflection and meditation. The story is led by the Evangelist, meaning he is central to the success of the performance, and we were privileged to have a master of the role, Rogers Covey-Crump, who fulfilled all expectations; Bravo!

Other soloists sing key characters or lead us in arias of contemplation. The soloists were excellent, and I enjoyed both the potential of youth and the polish of experience. Special performances included “I follow thee gladly” (Catriona Holsgrove) and “It is fulfilled” (Juliet Curnow). The culmination of the crucifixion was also magical, created by the Evangelist and Jesus (Henry Hawkesworth).

But at the heart of the work is the choir, and all the hard work that I know went into this performance paid off. The opening chorus sent shivers down my spine as the ethereal oboes soared over the confident, busy-ness of the choir. The chorales were clean, with well-controlled dynamic contrasts. The extended dialogue between Pilate and the choir (as “the people”), narrated by the Evangelist, had all the required precision to drive it forward, and the choir’s “spitting and derision” was frightening but passionate and taut (quite an achievement with over 100 in the “mob”!) Most importantly the choir were totally convincing in the part they played, supporting the narrative and never getting in the way. In such a piece, that is the mark of the professional. Congratulations to Carleton Etherington and all the choir!


Charles Woodd

9th April 2017