Review / Long ‘Passion’ of profound and emotional music

The performance of the “Saint Matthew Passion” at St Christopher’s Cathedral. Photo by ROB KENNEDY

FIRST performed almost 300 years ago, the “Saint Matthew Passion”, by J.S. Bach, is much more than a piece of music; it is a force in and outside the world of music.

The wave of sound that hits you in the opening few minutes, swells to become a sensation that can overcome the listener. Even from the second last pew in the large St Christopher’s Cathedral in Manuka, the volume was at times overwhelming, but also intimate and subtle.

Canberra Choral Society performs “Saint Matthew Passion” at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Manuka. Photo by Hou Leong

This performance was conducted by Andrew Koll, with concertmaster Pip Thompson, and soloists, Robert Macfarlane, Evangelist; Jeremy Tatchell, Jesus; Greta Claringbould, soprano; Maartje Sevenster, alto; Christopher Roache, tenor; Andrew Fysh, bass along with the Canberra Choral Society Choir & Orchestra and Australis Voices the Woden Valley Youth Choir.

Each soloist had several chorale’s, arias and recitatives to perform. In fact, there are around 80 pieces presented in the two parts of the “Passion”, and they all did an excellent job, especially Macfarlane whose presence and sense of drama added much to the night.

Canberra Choral Society performs “Saint Matthew Passion” at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Manuka. Photo by Hou Leong

The sound of the woodwinds throughout the “Passion”, in particular the oboes and the bassoons, whether in unison or separately helped to add that subtle baroque quality to the performance over this long, long work; with interval, the concert ran for almost three and a half hours.

The massed voices of the Canberra Choral Society Choir sounded with authority and were well in sync for the whole concert. The text for the “Passion” was projected on to two large screens at the back of the choir and interspersed with the text were images of the original score by Bach and poignant religious iconography.

Canberra Choral Society performs “Saint Matthew Passion” at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Manuka. Photo by Hou Leong

Bringing this massive event together was Andrew Koll, known Bach scholar, teacher, conductor and artistic director of the Canberra Bach Ensemble. Koll stood centre of this enormous choir and double orchestra and led everything with a known precision and even temperament; a performance that Bach would have been proud of.

When a joint choir of this size, of 140 singers hit full volume, the impact is like nothing else and when sections are singing different parts the effect is startling. But, when in unison and every voice at maximum, words leave you and the experience overrides everything.

Profound and emotional music like this that moves and can change people’s lives, will surely be here in another 300 years. This was a concert of quality singing and playing with a refreshing spirit and vibrancy.

Canberra Choral Society performs “Saint Matthew Passion” at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Manuka. Photo by Hou Leong

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