Johns' Passion - J. S. Bach - Stephen Layton - English National Opera
On 26 March 2002, I saw
the ENO at the Coliseum in a performance
of J. S. Bach's St Johns' Passion,
which was conducted by Stephen Layton.
The first performance of Bach's oratorio
was given on Good Friday in 1724 at
the Nicolaikirche, Leipzig.
The ENO thanked the members of the
Community Chorus whom, following the
workshops and training led by ENO's
Baylis, sang the chorales from the
boxes on the sides of the proscenium.
The audience was invited to join them
in "Oh Lord, who dares to smite
Thee?", "Christ, whose life
was as the light" and "O
Jesus, when I come to die"."
IN THE BEGINNING was the Word, and
the Word was with God, and the Word
was God. The same was in the beginning
with God. All things were made by
him; and without him was not anything
made that was made. In him was life
and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth on darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not."
John 1: 1-5
At the Symphony Hall, Birmingham on
13 February 2002 (Ash Wednesday),
there was another performance of St
John's Passion conducted by Sir Simon
Rattle, with the beautiful singing
of Ian Bostridge as the Evangelist.
The sublime duet by counter-tenor
Michael Jones and Richard Tunnicliffe's
viola da gamba in Es ist Vellbracht
was amazing; as was, Susan Gritton's
anguished soprano heights for zerfliesse,
mein Herze. The magnificent David
Wilson-Johnson was triple cast as
Jesus, Pilate and Peter. Most effective
of all was Rattle's doubling of the
chorus size for the chorales, which
gave the impression of a church congregation
joining in the majestic hymns, as
they would have done in 1724 in Leipzig.
The Times critic said, "If Rattle
weren't about to become chief conductor
of the Berlin Philharmonic, I would
put him forward for Archbishop of
Canterbury. The pews would be packed."
On 25 March, St John's Passion was
performed at the Barbican with the
work sung by a German cast conducted
by Helmuth Rilling crouched over his
soloists like an old watchmaker polishing
every detail of the music until it
glowed. The Gachinger Kantorei are
the most fantastically disciplined
choir; every word counts in their
rendition as is sang with perfection.
The CVs of Marcus Ullman (Evangelist)
and Sebastian Noack (Jesus) include
lessons by Fischer-Diestkau and the
15 seconds of pin-drop silence at
the end showed how far Rilling and
company had gone towards making Lutherans
of us all!!! Since I have been in
London, I have been spending my Easters
seeing St John's Passion. At the end
at the ENO they come out on stage
with a live little lamb in their arms.
This image is always touching.