Preview: St John Passion by Bob Chilcott with Portsmouth Choral Union

St Mary’s, Portsea, Saturday 16 March 2024

With the ghost of J S Bach looming over his or her shoulder, it is a brave composer who will tackle writing a new setting of ‘The St. John Passion’, yet Bob Chilcott has done just that.  Written for the choir of Wells Cathedral, its first performance took place there within a service on Palm Sunday 2013.

Chilcott’s setting, in English, follows Bach’s precedent by using a tenor soloist in the role of Evangelist to narrate the story, with two baritone soloists and choir commenting and reflecting upon the unfolding drama.  As the story unfolds Chilcott introduces five well-known Passiontide hymn texts – with newly composed melodies designed to be sung by choir and audience together – so you will have the opportunity to join in, if you wish.  There will be a short introductory audience rehearsal.

The music is moving, reflective and dramatic by turns.  It is melodic and memorable, as might be expected from a composer who runs John Rutter a close second when it comes to writing Christmas Carols.  Composer and conductor Bob Chilcott has enjoyed a lifelong connection with singing and choirs.

Portsmouth Choral Union’s performance of this work is the Portsmouth premiere and is not to be missed.

The programme also includes Lo! The Full Final Sacrifice by Gerald Finzi. Among English anthems of the 20th century, Lo, the full, final sacrifice stands out. It celeb­­rates the eucharist, and the feast of Corpus Christi. The anthem may sound supremely English, but its history reveals that is as much Italian as English, taking in Orvieto and Loreto, as well as Cambridge and Northampton!

Portsmouth Choral Union’s performance of this work is the Portsmouth premiere with full instrumentation and is not to be missed.

Lois Houston

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