thu 18/07/2024

Bach St John Passion, Dublin Bach Singers, Marlborough Baroque Orchestra, Murphy, St Ann's Church, Dublin - choral fire | reviews, news & interviews

Bach St John Passion, Dublin Bach Singers, Marlborough Baroque Orchestra, Murphy, St Ann's Church, Dublin - choral fire

Bach St John Passion, Dublin Bach Singers, Marlborough Baroque Orchestra, Murphy, St Ann's Church, Dublin - choral fire

Passion and precision from a very engaging ensemble, soloists more variable

After the performance in St Ann's Dawson Street

Was it worth taking a risk on a more humbly presented St John Passion in Dublin after the best St Matthew I’m ever likely to hear (from Peter Whelan and the Irish Baroque Ensemble in St Patrick’s Cathedral)?

The answer, post-performance, is yes: quite apart from the opportunity to hear two of the greatest masterpieces, very different from each other, in the pre-Easter period, the scale of this gave us a larger but not oversize (32-strong) choir, the Dublin Bach Singers, delivering with huge emotional impact, precision and perfect shaping from experienced choral conductor Blánaid Murphy (pictured below) - even if continuity between numbers could have keener.

Blanaid MurphyThe thrills came immediately, the intertwining of the Marlborough Baroque Orchestra's two excellent oboists, David Agnew and Maria Rojas, rising to the heavens in the helpful acoustics of St Ann's Dawson Street, and the great cries of "Herr" hitting us straight in the gut. Murphy's steady hand rose to the challenge, and then it was immediately apparent that we were in the presence of a vivid Evangelist, young Dublin-trained tenor Andrew Gavin (pictured below), projecting effortlessly from the pulpit behind the other musicians. Maybe there was a bit too much upper-register-wise in head voice, but no expressive opportunity passed without special emphasis: the St John Passion's unforgettable articulation of Peter's weeping towards the end of Part One even had an Italianate catch in the throat.

Another young Dublin singer, bass-baritone Shokri Francis Raoof, had all the forthright dignity needed for Jesus, and delivered the arias with focused resonance. Bright soprano Kelli-Ann Masterson (a perfect Norina on Irish National Opera's Don Pasquale) had the right colour and ring, but needed to go a bit further in expression of the text (smile when it's joyously affirmative).

Andrew GavinThat was even more true of Eilís Dexter, a mezzo of warm and individual hue. Sometimes a dramaturg needs to be on hand for so theatrical a work. Neverheless "Es ist vollbracht" had much of its emotional impact, with perfect intonation from viola da gamba player Sarah Grosser.

Viola da gamba apart, the instruments were all modern rather than period, which made for sounds of a different beauty to what we've accepted as the norm. The two muted violins in the tenor arioso "Mein Herz, in dem die ganze Welt" brought us closer to Brahms, and there was a depth to the bite in the more fiery numbers. The chorus was tireless and magnificent in the long turba sequences of Part Two - the chromatic descents of the first still seem so contemporary – and deeply moving in "Ruht wohl" and the affirmative final chorale. They and their conductor can be very proud of the achievement,


Ms Murphy is having an extremely busy week; apart from the St. John she has all the Holy week services to prepare with thevPalestrinas and Girls choir in the pro-cathedral.  How does she fit it all in??.  The second last chorus of the the St. John Passion dwith its many repetitions of Ruht wohl I found highly moving.




Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters