Music for Good Friday at Leeds Minster, The St John Passion

JOHANN Sebastian Bach’s settings of the most emotive Christian story, the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus, belong to an elite handful of transcendent sacred works. St John is the shorter of Bach’s two surviving Passions and concentrates the drama into an emotion packed two hours.

There was a palpable momentum to Good Friday’s deeply moving performance given by the St Peter’s Singers and the National Festival Orchestra. It was conducted with his unerring sense of flow by Simon Lindley who is now Organist Emeritus of Leeds Minster. Dr Lindley encouraged the audience to join in the hymn-like chorales at the end of each section.

Crucially, the narrative felt coherent. This was in no small part attributable to the clarity of the English text, infused as it was with a sense of immediacy by Stephen Liley’s Evangelist and the incisive responses of the carefully blended chorus. The vocal line was impeccably counter-balanced by the rich sonorities of the instrumental ensemble led by Sally Robinson with continuo players Martin Couzin (cello), Pietro Lusvardi (double bass), Alan Horsey (harpsichord) and David Houlder (chamber organ).

The radiance of soprano Ella Taylor - exquisitely accompanied by woodwind, harpsichord and cello - illuminated her aria I followed in gladness. Bass Quentin Brown was the regretful Pontius Pilate who allows the baying crowd to decide on the fate of the condemned Jesus, sung by sombre toned bass Tom Hunt. Donald Hunt, Tom’s late father, served as distinguished organist and choir master of this famous city church from 1958-75.

by Geoffrey Mogridge