REVIEW: A beautiful version of Bach’s sacred oratorio

The St John Passion by West Sussex Philharmonic Choir, St Mary’s Church, Horsham, Saturday, April 5

The interior of St Mary’s Church is a fitting location for Bach’s St John Passion to be performed. Much like the church, this sacred oratorio is a grand and elegant work, rich with the drama of the story central to the Christian faith.

It’s also a strongly melodic work with moments of transcendent beauty, requiring a high level of musical skill to perform it properly.

The West Sussex Philharmonic Choir definitely rises to the challenge.

The performers breathe life into this colourful piece from the energetic and stirring opening section to the somewhat sombre, yet ultimately uplifting finale. It’s all directed and conducted with care and precision by Stephen Hope with his orchestra, Sinfonia da Chiesa.

Tenor Neil Jenkins offers a tender, controlled singing performance as the Evangelist, while Michael Bundy (bass) provides a gentle and dignified performance as Jesus.

Tenor John English handles Bach’s complex and sometimes unusual melodies well while Simon Wilson (baritone) has a commanding presence as Roman procurator Pilate.

Soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers and contralto Susan Legg are also on fine form with their soaring and often emotionally affecting vocals.

Overall, it’s an impressive performance from all involved.

The singers and the instrumentalists convey the tale’s sense of emotional turmoil effectively, while remaining in sync with each other and never losing control over Bach’s complicated composition.

By Lawrence Smith