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Concert review: SSO's well-judged performance of Bach's St John Passion

Published on Apr 6, 2014 3:01 PM

Leading up to the season of Lent, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra is to be lauded for not presenting an umpteenth reading of Handel's Messiah. Instead, it has opted for a rare performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's St John Passion on last Friday at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

First performed in Leipzig in 1724, this was the earlier of two surviving passions, a setting of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and death as told in the Gospel Of John.

The passion and sacrifice of Christ are central tenets of the Christian faith. Bach was to colour the dramatic events in the most vivid and explicit musical language possible, with an aim to reinforce devotion and fervency in the believer, and instil pity and awe in everybody else. This was evangelism 18th century style, with the German composer as a most persuasive proselytiser.

Although the SSO is by no means a period performance ensemble, certain aspects of authenticity were observed by Lim Yau, the artistic director of the Singapore Symphony Chorus, who conducted this evening. He employed a small group of strings (12 violins, two cellos and one bass), obliggato flutes and oboes, bassoon, harpsichord, chamber organ, and delightful surprises: viola da gamba, a stringed instrument that dates back to the 15th century; and theorbo, an ancient fretted instrument strummed like a lute.

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