Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Andrew Daldorph and East Devon Choral Society Bach St John Passion Tiverton Baptist Church Saturday 25 March 2017

East Devon Choral Society
Musical Director: Andrew Daldorph

As the Christian observance of Lent passes the half-way mark and the festival of Easter approaches many prepare for the celebration of the greatest Christian mystery, resurrection, with idiosyncratic self imposed penances and acts of contrition. After a traditional blow-out of pancakes, even non-christians often embark on forty days of privation.

Johann Sebastial Bach
In 1724 Johann Sebastian Bach, having just taken up a new post at St Thomas' Church in Liepzig, dedicated Lent to the preparation of music for a definitive Passion service - which was relocated to St Nicholas' Church at the last minute. In addition to an Easter sermon for Good Friday, the service included the story of Christ's trial and execution, as described in the John Gospel, presented in song by a series of vocal soloists.

Josh Cooter
Some sang the words of Jesus and the other characters. Some sang arias reflecting the mood of the story. One in particular, The Evangelist, sang the narrative of the Gospel as recitative. Most important, bracketing and amplifying the significance and mood of every part of the story, were the chorales sung by the choir.

Andrew Daldorph
Following three centuries of tradition, Andrew Daldorph and the East Devon Choral Society dedicated their Lent to preparing for their own performance of the St John Passion. Work started, not on Ash Wednesday (1st March), but immediately after Epiphany (6th January). For twelve weeks the choir members have been practicing their parts, and rehearsing regularly at Old Heathcote School, for a public performance on 25th March.

Orchestra Leader:
Fiona McLean Buechel
On the day they were joined by the usual orchestra of superb instrumentalists from across Devon. Fiona McLean Buechel was leading, with a team of six violinists.

Jim Swainson
David Newland
Three violas and two 'cellos were joined by the double bass of Graham Tuck.
Candice Regan returned to play flute, and Andrew Maries was joined by Catriona Jackson playing oboe - with Andrew Garton icing the cake with his melifluous bassoon playing.

'Cello solo:
Michael Dawson
In the 'cello section was Hilary Boxer's former 'cello student Michael Dawson who, when he was still a schoolboy, so skilfully accompanied the choir's rehearsals on the piano.

'Cello duet:
Michael Dawson
Tirke Linnemann
Michael has now graduated in Engineering at Oxford University, and is preparing his PhD thesis in Aerospace Engineering at Cambridge. Equally accomplished as a musician, Michael took charge of the 'cello part and, with Tirke Linnemann, shone in the solo and duet parts.

Colin Pettet
As the evening was a concert, not a service, there was no sermon. Instead, Colin Pettet installed his chamber organ in the pulpit where he could interact directly with Andrew Daldorph conducting on the rostrum.

and choir

In the Baptist Church the pulpit is central, and the choir were packed around Colin on all sides - with some altos and sopranos singing down from the galleries above. The audience filled the remaining gallery space, and the nave and aisles, for a very intimate evening of shared music.

Director of Music: Andrew Daldorph

Herr, Unser Herrscher . . .

Opening Chorale:
"Herr Unser Herscher"
Following the gentle and intriguing introduction by the orchestra, the choir ignited the mood of the evening immediately with one of Bach's best known chorales - in German. The opening is a generic exposition of the Christian's abject devotion to the Saviour Jesus Christ.

The English 'Lord' is expressed as the more mundane 'Herr' in German, a business title equivalent to 'Mr.' In Bach's hands, however, the repeated and increasingly forceful iteration of this single word, and its emphatic form 'Herrscher', impress on the audience the significance of this particular 'Herr', whose name will be known and revered in every land.


More Passion
In an overwhelming canon, the different sections of the choir built the mood to a crescendo of emotion before (in familiar Bach style) fading to leave the soft sound of the orchestra. But, most exciting of all, just when all seemed complete, a slight crescendo from the orchestra introduced the choir again, and the whole performance was repeated with even more enthusiasm than before.

Josh Cooter
That opening chorale was worth the price of admission in itself but, as the final chord faded, Josh Cooter stepped forward to begin his exposition of the St John Gospel. His sweet tenor voice took us through the words of the Gospel in such perfect German that the English translation, provided in the programme notes, was hardly needed.

Julian Sutton
When the choir, now playing the part of the crowds in Jerusalem, called for Jesus, Julian Sutton stepped forward and pronounced in his commanding bass voice, "Ich bin's" - and, after a little profound quizzing by the crowd about his identity, the choir express their great love for him in another chorale.

Bethany Partridge
In similar vein, the rest of the evening passed with each part of the Passion story from the John Gospel illustrated by chorales and arias. Bethany Partridge sang the soprano arias, including the words of Simon Peter, "Ich folge dir gleichfals" (I also follow you - with joyful tread) which she had sung so memorably in her solo recitals when she was still at school.

Helen Charlston
Bethany is also a graduate now, having taken Music at Cambridge, and works as a freelance singer in London - performing with Musical Directors like Nigel Short and the Tenebrae Singers. Bethany was joined by her fellow student Helen Charlston, who sang the alto arias. Together they now sing with Paul Jeanes and the Amici Chamber Choir in London.

Guy Withers
A new voice, Guy Withers, took on the tenor parts, and East Devon Choral Society regular, and Exeter Cathedral Choir member, Tim Mirfin, sang the bass.

Bass: Tim Mirfin

Simon Peter:
Alex Scott
Matthew Cann
Choir members took up some of the minor parts in the narrative, with Alex Scott playing the part of Simon Peter, and Dave Regester the part of Caiaphas' insolent servant. George Daldorph's treble voice made a special appearance as the maid to whom Peter denied his master. One last part needed to be filled - Pontius Pilate - and that was very ably performed by another Exeter Cathedral Choir bass, not to mention choral composer and Musical Director of the Antiphon Choir, Matthew Cann.

"Ruht Wohl"
With the choir in spectacular voice, the story unwound in a captivating two hours of magical drama. With Andrew Daldorph's deft direction, the hundred voices mingled in a thousand different ways to mesmerise the audience and, in keeping with the theme of the evening, imbued every aspect of the story with immense Passion.

"Ich will dich  
preisen ewiglich!"
It was hard to know where to look. The magnificent multitude of the East Devon Choral Society, all in formal evening dress, were actively engaged throughout, bombarding the air with melody and rhythm, and excitement, from every angle.

Soloists join the choir
for the final chorale
Bass: Tim Mirfin
Tenor: Guy Withers
Alto: Helen Charlston
Bethany Partridge
The evening was a splendid success, and everyone involved deserves special credit for creating such a wonderful spectacle, and bringing a chilly spring evening to life with their recreation of this marvellous baroque masterpiece.

A glorious conclusion

East Devon Choral Society
Martyn Green

Special Guest:
Bethany Partridge
with soprano
Sally Daldorph

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