Bach: St Matthew Passion

Tomorrow I make my annual pilgrimage to The Royal Festival Hall for the Bach Choir’s performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

I can’t remember how long I have been doing this. An old friend introduced the piece to me many years ago and for several thereafter the two of us would make it our yearly treat. As the years passed and my eager anticipation for the event grew, others, out of curiosity and observation of how the occasion affected me, have delved into the piece and discovered its spiritual beauty – thereby kicking our little secret into the long grass.

Humph. Parade rained upon.

I wrote about Bach, and this work particular, in April 2017, so click on the link below for some more information about the man and the piece, and another excerpt, not least because there’s not a whole lot I can add to it.

Today I want to share the opening chorus with you. I have deliberately selected a version which fulfils two essentials. First the speed, which here, for me is perfect: taken correctly, it is as if a long train is pulling out of the station, embarking on a lengthy trip; as the voices come in, the train has emerged into the open air and you nestle comfortably into your seat, relishing the indulgence of doing absolutely nothing beyond letting go and immersing yourself fully into the music.

The second essential, facilitating the first, is that there are no visuals here. The Passion, whether you believe it or not, is a story of the highest drama, and this has led some to staging it. I went to one such production a number of years ago and I came away completely unfulfilled. Visuals, staging, just get in the way of the music: they can even distract you enough to take you away from it.

The piece, nearly three hours in length, would always be in my Desert Island Discs lineup. And if I had to select just one, The St Matthew Passion would be it.

In that, I recently discovered, I am in the best possible company: the late Claudio Abbado, one of my favourite conductors, unhesitatingly said the same when he was interviewed for the programme.

Click on the image – and if you can get to a performance in the next couple of weeks, you will start a habit which you will find hard to give up in years to come.

But a good one. Perhaps the best.





10 thoughts on “Bach: St Matthew Passion”

  1. On one of our first dates, John and I listened to the whole recorded work. We followed the score. That was probably 58 years ago, and I’ll bet John could tell us what group did it. We went to a live performance sometime in the last ten years at St. Thomas in Manhattan. That was simply glorious.


  2. Incredibly moving and beautiful. The chorales sung by the 250 strong choir was a particular highlight.
    I wish we could all have dispersed without any need for applause.
    Thank you for inspiring me through your blog to attend! It won’t be the last time.


    1. Thank you, I’m so thrilled you were there. It was indeed incredibly moving; and I totally agree about the applause. In years gone by, we all went on our way in silence, an act which added to the solemnity and emotional impact of the occasion. Thank you for your kind words, too, they are much appreciated. Bws, Nick


  3. What a terrific rendering of this first chorus from both the orchestra and choir. Once again you have taken me back to the 1960’s – funny to think you weren’t even born then! One of the choirs I sang in was the London Philharmonic and, like the Bach Choir, we sang the St Matthew Passion annually; half in the morning, a break for lunch and the other half in the afternoon. It and Gerontius were my all time favourites in our repertoire. Thank you for transporting me back to such a fulfilling time of my life. And, as always, I loved the way you wrote your blog.


    1. Ah, my favourite two as well, alongside the Brahms Requiem. How lovely to have sung them, and with the LP, no less. Thank you for your generous words, they are always so appreciated, a real spur. (By the way, I was just around then, born in 1958!)


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