Review of Ely Choral Society’s performance of St Matthew Passion in Ely Cathedral on 27th March 2010

Ely Cathedral was the ideal place for a splendid seasonal performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The massive choir, highly competent soloists and excellent instrumentalists under the baton of Andrew Parnell held the audience spell-bound as the severity and seriousness of the message of the Passion was convincingly conveyed.

The performers were Ely Choral Society, Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir, Brandenburg Baroque Soloists, Jonathan Lilley (organ), Oliver Hancock (organ) and soloists James Atherton (Evangelist), Stephen Alder (Jesus), Helen Groves (soprano), Robert Cross (countertenor), Paul Young (tenor) and Mark Oldfield (baritone).

As the first awesome sounds filled the cathedral the listeners were immediately captivated and involved. The Evangelist in a fine clear voice told the story of the suffering and death of Jesus with sincerity and convincing expressiveness. 

Andrew Parnell inspired the mass of voices and the smooth, reflective chorales moved events along at an engaging and dynamic pace that brought the music alive. There were many dramatic and exciting moments, particularly the choirs’ interpolations of which “Truly, this was the Son of God” was most effective.   

The orchestras consisted of highly accomplished performers who coloured their playing with skilled embellishments, emotive melodies and virtuosic fervour to match the variety of the voices. The viola da gamba was a particularly fitting contributor and the organists gave constantly sensitive support.

The soloists were exceptional. The Evangelist never faltered from his convincing and exquisitely shaped delivery. Ex- Head Chorister of Ely Cathedral, Robert Cross (countertenor), was another phenomenal performer, his strong, wholesomely-coloured tones heightening the extreme passion of his contributions. He matched the soprano extremely well in their duet “Behold, my Saviour now is taken”. The soprano, called in to replace an ailing soloist was no ‘second-best’ performer. Her exquisite sounds, her tonal beauty and her expressive drive were among the best.

The final chorus “We bow our head in tears and sorrow” was a most impressive and potent ending to a very moving and fitting event.    



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