Bury Choral Society

Saturday 14th May 2016. All Saints Church, Whitefield

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in its entirety is almost 3 hours long, and was originally intended to be heard in two parts, before and after a Good Friday sermon. Minimal cuts were sympathetically made to this evening’s performance, and the work was taken at a faster pace than usual – to its benefit, though the woodwind group’s articulation was put to the test in the last chorus of the first half. The young orchestra – divided into two – was excellent. It helped the overall performance immensely that they and the two choirs and semi-chorus were so well balanced.

The ‘story’ was well placed and well performed. Underlining the date of the composition and adding atmosphere were two harpsichords, played by Audrey Peach, the Society’s accompanist of several years ago, and the current accompanist, Jonathan Ellis.

This work is not easy for the chorus, especially where they interpose within the narrative. The main choruses were, in general, very well performed, although there were one or two slightly faltering entries. That said, the sound of the choir and their control of a range of dynamics, was impressive. They showed how they continue to progress by the way they handled the different styles demanded of them, painting vocal pictures of the different moods of the various groups of people. Outrage, anger and condemnation were almost tangible. Pity, remorse, pleading, and the desperate farewell of the final chorus filled the listener with sadness.

There were five excellent soloists. Bass baritone John Cunningham’s portrayal of Jesus described the quiet resigned dignity with which He awaited his fate. Gareth Morris (tenor, Welsh National Opera) excelled as the Evangelist. He had stepped in to replace Tyler Cooper, who became ill during the week.  Having come into this large part at very short notice, he delivered the exceptional nuances that the part requires. Matthew Kellett (bass) covered the roles of Peter, Judas and other smaller parts, easily adapting his dominant tone to express the pathos of those situations.

Tenor John Elliott’s small part in the story was perfectly and immaculately executed with clear diction. When not required as a soloist he generously joined the tenors of the choir. Sally Johnson (soprano) and Laura Wood (contralto) were enchanting to hear. Covering the parts of various female characters, both had clear strong voices and sang their moving sections beautifully.

Director of Music Juan Ortuno held the performance together very well to deliver his conception of the work, and the choir continues to improve under his leadership.

The concert was very well received by a large audience, many of whom many found it very moving.