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