‘Heartbreakingly moving’

The following review of the St.Matthew Passion concert on Saturday 12th April 2014 was prepared by Keith Nixon for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“J.S. Bach’s monumental choral masterpiece, the St. Matthew Passion, depicting the final hours of Jesus’ life and death, held the audience at Sunderland Minster transfixed for more than three hours.

The Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, on this occasion augmented by its Ryton counterpart, is well known for its magnificent renditions of choral pieces but this performance was simply breathtaking. A stunning line-up of young soloists drawn from DurhamUniversity and across the North-East beautifully complemented two professional singers on top form.

Conductor David Murray maintained a flowing pace throughout with the narrative action propelled forward by tenor Daniel Norman in the role of the Evangelist. Christ was exquisitely performed by Philip Smith – his impassioned delivery of the words ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ was heartbreakingly moving.

In a performance of such high quality, one moment stood out. The heart-wrenching ‘Erbarme Dich’, introduced by violinist Martin Hughes’ aching lament, was delivered with total conviction by mezzo-soprano Sarah Ryan. Hughes’ fine playing was typical of the orchestra whose members accompanied the arias with delicate care and refinement.

Among many other aria highlights were: Camilla Harris’ ‘Aus Liebe’; Elen Lloyd Roberts’ ‘Ich will dir mein Herze schenken’; Ben Rowarth’s ‘Komm, susses Kreuz’; Simon Lee’s Geduld; Marnie Blair’s ‘Buss und Reu’ and Polly Leech’s ‘Können Tränen’.

The choirs were in full voice, singing with focus and clarity, switching emotions effortlessly from the rage of a bloodthirsty mob to the anguish and pain of Christ’s disciples. The chorales were movingly sung and the singers sounded as fresh at the end of the concert as they were at the beginning – no mean feat in such a demanding and challenging work.

The final chorus (‘Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder’) was followed by a collective silence – a time for the audience to reflect on what had been a spiritually moving experience and a triumph for all concerned.”

Keith Nixon