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Review of St John Passion at York Minster, 6th April 2019

Review: York Musical Society, St John Passion,
York Minster, April 6

From The Press, York, 25 April 2019

By Martin Dreyer

THE architecture of Bach’s first Passion is geared for dramatic impact. The York Musical Society choir was in confident form on Saturday (April 6) under the cool direction of David Pipe and there was plenty of theatre in its “crowd” interventions.

The evening got off to a tentative start, with a diffident opening chorus. But nerves were shed thereafter and all four sections revealed a refreshing directness in attack. Best of all, eyes were well out of copies and on the conductor, a sure sign of good preparation. The cry of “Barabbas” was spine-tingling. Special credit goes to the tenors whose vigour belied their relatively small numbers.

Paul Smy was the highly competent Evangelist, tailoring his narrative smoothly. The scourging of Jesus was particularly chilling. Julian Tovey’s diction as Jesus was not as focused and constant use of his score diminished his gravitas. He sang from the pulpit (where surely the Evangelist should have been).

Chloë Latchmore’s mezzo-soprano is a real find. Her strong resonance was most effective in “It is finished”, with the lion of Judah on a stirring rampage. Definitely one to watch. Philippa Boyle’s incisive soprano was well suited to the building. David Pike made a genuine character of Pilate and his bass arias were punchy. He could afford to keep more still, as could tenor Nathan Vale who “conducted” himself.

The orchestra was efficient, even if some obbligato roles were under-coloured. It was the choir that took the laurels.

Martin Dreyer

Review of St Matthew Passion, 24th March 2018

Review: York Musical Society, St Matthew Passion, York Minster, March 24

from York Press 28 March 2018

It is hard to think of what might surpass J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion (1727) as the greatest of all sacred musical works for the Christian church. Bach never wrote an opera, but he did dramatic music nevertheless.

With a libretto by Picander (Christian Friedrich Henrici), the St Matthew Passion is, first, a fast-moving narrative of Jesus’s arrest, trial and execution and, second, a reflective piece in which soloists comment on the emotional and spiritual significance of that narrative.

It is demanding for all musicians involved: double orchestra, full choir, separate treble choir, four soloists and separate Evangelist and Jesus. Bach, guided by his devout Lutheran faith, wrote Jesus’s part in red ink in the manuscript and his recitatives are always accompanied not only by continuo but by a halo of strings.

The overall architecture of the piece was persuasively presented. Under principal conductor David Pipe, YMS made a moving and convincing spiritual drama of this challenging work, singing in English translation. Bach’s expansive opening chorus (“Come ye daughters, share my wailing”) was beautifully rendered with a Via Dolorosa tread, as was the equally demanding final chorus with its bitter-sweet discordant decorations.

Bach ends the St Matthew Passion, like the earlier St John Passion (1724), at Jesus’s death, not with his resurrection: the composer knew that much of the best in music comes from sorrow, not from triumph. But David Pipe managed to find exactly the right level of reassurance in that last chorus – “Sleep thou sweetly” – so that it did not feel like the end of the story.

Excellent obbligato playing gave the reflective arias emotional coherence and musical shape (Orchestra 2 was even more assured in the strings than Orchestra 1).

Paul Smy was an elegant, if understated Evangelist and Jonathan May a light yet moving Jesus, singing from the pulpit. The best soloist, mezzo soprano Kate Symonds-Joy, brought remarkable colour and intensity to her role, especially in the most moving of all the arias, Have Mercy, My God. The remaining aria soloists were Anita Watson (soprano), Ben Thapa (tenor) and Alex Ashworth (bass).

Pipe controlled the considerable forces required for this Baroque masterpiece with poised authority and with a sense of having fully inhabited the work. YMS is now a choir that impresses each time it performs – and in widely differing repertoire. A memorable evening.

Review by Francis O’Gorman

November 2017

After the excitement of our recent concert at York Barbican we are straight back into rehearsals for our Christmas concert. This will be held at the St Lawrence Parish Church on Saturday the 9th of December at 4pm. A wonderful way to get you in the Christmas mood.

September 2017

We are now taking bookings for the ever popular Choral Workshop which is themed around Famous Operatic Choruses.

There is a section under the Concerts and Events tab, or go straight to the Eventbrite booking page via this link.

Book early as this is a very popular event and often sells out.