Oratorios are a strange listening experience for a non-believer. Liturgical music even more so. I attend such performances with an assumption that I should really be a fully 'paid-up member' of the belief system before I can fully appreciate the work I'm about to listen to.
After Arvo Pärt's Passio last night at St John's Smith Square, I'm a little bit closer to finalising a listening strategy for such performances.
What drew me to this event – the selling point I used to hook my OH
It wasn't. Tenebrae is like that
And, as there turned out to be on stage last night when one of their own faints part-way through the performance, first-responding colleagues move swiftly to provide the necessary support whilst still miraculously ensuring the atmosphere all on the platform have worked hard to create remains intact. They are, quite simply, remarkable performers on a whole variety of levels.
Arvo Pärt's score is lean. Melodic motifs capture the natural rhythms and cadence of the passion text. The resulting musical language has a raw simplicity
It's also an efficient piece of storytelling where each word appears to be given equal weight, statements are hurried, and meaning isn't lost. The performance didn't tarry by any means; the work allows everyone the time to consider what it is that we're listening to.
Bass Jimmy Holliday overcame some difficulties with his voices, playing the role of Jesus with touching humility, and warmth. Of the Evangelist chorus – a beguiling interweaving of human voices that gave the narrative an almost balletic quality throughout – special mention to David de Winter (tenor) and Hannah Cooke (mezzo) whose sang with poise, precision and a delectable tone.