tue 21/05/2024

St John Passion, Bachfest Leipzig livestream review - pocket quarantine gospel | reviews, news & interviews

St John Passion, Bachfest Leipzig livestream review - pocket quarantine gospel

St John Passion, Bachfest Leipzig livestream review - pocket quarantine gospel

A tenor sings all bar the chorales, with percussion and organ/harpsichord accompaniment

Unusual trinity: percussionist Philipp Lamprecht, tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson and organist Elina Albach

Bach, being The Greatest, can take any amount of adaptation. I'm especially addicted, for instance, to CDs on which the Japanese percussionist Kuniko plays cello suites and violin sonatas on the marimba.

So it was going to be fascinating to hear a truncated St John Passion for Good Friday arranged, in this needs-must time, for percussion and harpsichord/organ, with a tenor taking all the lines bar the chorales, livestreamed by ensembles which would have participated in this year's Bachfest in Leipzig plus a vocal quintet in the same church, the Thomaskirche for which Bach wrote his great passions and his two cycles of endlessly inventive cantatas.

Sometimes, it was weird beyond the call of duty, After the quintet, with a lone cellist uncomfortably close to one of the singers (had they all been tested?), performed a very boring introit by Kuhlau, we were off into a strange adventure of Bach as you never heard him before. The long-haired figure who seemed to be conducting percussionist Philipp Lamprecht and organist Elina Albach turned out to be tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson, who sang just one single line of the opening chorus. Not only that, but in true Bully Bottom style he went on to play Evangelist, Christ, Pilate, Maid and Crowd – this last most extraordinarily, a kind of Sprechstimme, more speech than song, while the range of "tongs and bones" rattled away. Much of it worked, but there was no disguising an under-supported technique not equal to every challenge. And the hand gestures seemed more those of a politician going through carefully-trained motions than a match for much of the expressive singing.

Bach statue outside ThomaskircheNo praise, though, would be too high for Albach, switching adeptly from chamber organ – which just about substituted for the missing in the crucial aria "Es ist vollbracht" – to harpsichord, mostly for Pilate's utterances, or for Lamprecht, whose vibraphone playing made for an extraordinary obbligato in the soprano aria "Ich folge des Gleichfalls". Omitting five of the arias, Kristjánsson nevertheless gamely substituted for alternative voices with varying degrees of success. He could take a breather as the choirs deprived of their visits to Leipzig this year tuned in: the 20 of the Ottawa Bach Choir, seven from the BachStiftung St Gallen in Switzerland, 25 including instrumentalists from the Malaysia Bach Festival. Local voices including the Thomaserchor also contributed, and a violinist played in front of Bach's statue outside the Thomaskirche (pictured above by David Nice) though in Part Two the lion's share was taken by the church quintet.

Fitfully moving, the performance took us up several notches emotionally for the final sequence. Kristjánsson delivered portions of the outer sections in the great "Ruht wohl" chorus wordlessly and unaccompanied, adding the text only for the central sequence, before being joined – again at alarmingly close quarters – by Albach and Lamprecht to sing the final chorale. That was the catharsis we needed. I give thanks that the Bach Collegium Japan's Barbican St John Passion was able to sear those of us able to attend just before lockdown – it was one of only two dates on their tour that Masaaki Suzuki's superlative ensemble was able to fulfil – but this experience, for all its shortcomings and short cuts, will never be forgotten.

In true Bully Bottom style, Kristjánsson went on to play Evangelist, Christ, Pilate, Maid and Crowd


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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