There is a timeless spirituality about Reading Bach Choir performing JS Bach. Their St Matthew Passion was sublime. Perfectionist JanJoost van Elburg rehearsed them long and hard and the resulting performance was sheer joy, written on the faces of performers and audience alike at the end.

Over three hours the choir maintained a balanced warmth and discipline rarely heard and kept our interest through the marathon work despite its repetitions and the heat in the hall. Their monumental choruses flowed with sweet sorrow and clear diction. The quiet second verse of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O Sacred Head, Sore wounded) was the best example of their restrained skill. Towards the end of the work their singing was possibly too sweet for the brutal words. Members of the choir sang minor solo roles with confidence, notably Chris Hunter’s sturdy Pilate. The chorale O Mensch, bewein dein Sunde gross (O man, bewail your great sin) was augmented by the Taplow Boys’ Choir, polished and well rehearsed but too remote up in the gallery. The fascinating baroque instruments of the City of London Chamber Players added interest and tonal colour. Charles Medlam’s viola da gamba was a delight and the oboists black hunting horns gave a haunting sound to Ach Golgatha. Two small orchestras maintained a balanced accompaniment. Brian Lloyd-Wilson and Diane Terry played impeccable violin solos.

Christopher Watson’s Evangelist was pure and clear throughout: a test of stamina. Baritone David Stuart was a spiritual Jesus. Esther Levin returned to Reading with her elegant soprano voice and alto Caroline Trevor’s Buss und Reu (Guilt and pain) was deep and full. The high point of the evening was van Elburg’s addition of counter-tenor Christopher Warwick for a mesmerising Erbarme dich, Mein Gott (Have mercy, Lord) to a beautiful accompaniment. He plumbed the emotional depths of utter desperation with Konnen Tranen meiner Wangen nichts erlangen (If the tears upon my cheeks are of no avail.) The final chorus with everyone on stage was operatic. After tumultuous applause and three curtain calls for van Elburg we departed, our souls refreshed.

Eileen Caster

Newbury Weekly News Thursday 12th June

Reproduced with kind permission of Newbury Weekly News.