Christmas presents a golden opportunity to present brand new music to wide audiences, and the role played by St John’s College Choir in this area has been significant, as demonstrated by new recording of traditional and contemporary choral works. The recording features Michael Finnissy’s John the Baptist, written for the Choir for its BBC Advent broadcast in 2014.
Since 1727, JS Bach's "Great Passion" has gripped the hearts and uplifted the minds of audiences all over the globe. Nearly three centuries after its premiere, the work has lost none of its power to evoke feelings of compassion for all those who suffer. Its mix of urgent story-telling, meditative arias and mighty choruses sets St Matthew's account of Christ's betrayal, trial and execution eloquently and emotionally.
The Prague Philharmonic choir join over a dozen others who have recorded Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, a work once thought the special property of the Russian choirs who are, of course, prominent in the lists. The Czechs sing it without a cantor, and more as a concert work than some of the others do. Though they take the famous scale in the Nunc dimittis, descending to a profound B flat, in their stride, they are not as sonorous as some others, and their particular contribution is to sing the music lightly and flexibly, with a lively response to the words. They have excellent sopranos, safe in intonation when attacking the exposed high entries in thirds which are a feature of the music, and a good tenor for the three numbers that involve him as a soloist. The Magnificat, with all its tempo changes and shifts of register, is expressively done, as are the light rhythms of ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord’.
Although the titles to several of the tracks may be the same as those at Broad Chalke, the performance in front of a large audience has a much grander and at times, darker feel, to the previous evening. The difference can be heard almost immediately in the opening track. Whereas, The Apparent Chaos of Stone was a more languorous affair at Broad Chalke, here at Bishop’s Cleeve, Fripp begins to throw some startling curve-balls of pensive guitar after only a few minutes. Given the slow silky tones that makes up much of the opening piece it can be easy to miss some of the detailed interplay that occurs between the two players.