Review - 09 May 2015
What a treat for those who attended Bridgwater Choral Society’s recent performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater. One of the truly great oratorios from the Baroque period, this setting of the Passion certainly demonstrates the brilliance of Bach on a grand scale. Composed in 1727 the work is written for double choir, double orchestra and soloists. The use of double choir enables very effective conversational dialogue in a question and answer style at times and this, the singers managed extremely well giving the work a great sense of flow and enabling the story to flow effortlessly. Many of the Arias are also written for soloist and chorus and again the interplay between the two was very well managed. The Aria & Chorus ‘I would beside my Lord’ was a beautifully performed example of this. The Chorus ‘Have lightnings and thunders forgotten their fury?’ is one of the very exciting moments in the work and the choir sang this with great energy and gusto. In contrast to the complexity of some of the Choruses, the simplicity of the Chorales really demonstrated the choir’s excellent phrasing and diction.
For the most part the orchestral accompaniment led by Brigid Kirkland-Wilson was sensitively executed and the balance between instrumentalists and singers was good. There was some fine Oboe playing and beautifully shaped Violin solos in some of the Arias. In particular the string playing in the Alto’s aria ‘Have mercy, Lord on me’ was a joy to listen to. There were just a few untidy moments in a couple of the faster movements when the ensemble between orchestra and singers did not quite match, but unity was soon recaptured.
The 5 soloists were a fine group of musicians. Louis Hurst - Jesus, Bo Wang - Evangelist, Charlotte Newstead - Soprano, Fiona Mackay - Alto and Stephen Whitford - Bass. Special mention should go to the young Stephen Whitford who is still in the Upper 6th Form of Dean Close School in Cheltenham. Stephen has a lovely warm, even tone throughout his range and sings with great commitment and maturity. A young man with an exciting musical future ahead. It was also excellent to have the Chamber Choir from Bruton School for Girls singing the ripieno choir part.
A fine evening of music all expertly directed by the Choral Society’s Conductor, Iain Cooper. Congratulations to all.