Friday, March 5, 2010

Chorus Niagara performs a Bach masterwork this weekend

This is a weekend Niagara-area lovers of choral music will not want to miss: Chorus Niagara presents the third concert of their 2009-2010 season, and it promises to be a memorable experience. The choir, directed by Artistic Director Robert Cooper, performs the St. John Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach on Saturday evening in Grimsby and Sunday afternoon in downtown St. Catharines.

Bach's St. John Passion is one of just two surviving Passion works - the other being, of course, the St. Matthew Passion - out of an original four or five. As great as this work is to perform and to hear, it has always presented a problem for those wishing to create a so-called 'authentic' version of the work, as really, no such beast actually exists. The St. John Passion was first heard on Good Friday, April 7th, 1724, and then presented the following year in Leipzig. It was performed twice more in the 1730s, so basically it was performed all of four times during Bach's lifetime. For each of those performances, Bach appears to have reworked the music somewhat, adding and subtracting numbers or simply changing the order of the music. So anyone wanting to perform the work now essentially has four different performances to choose from.

However they choose to perform it, the richness of the music means you can't really go wrong with whatever music you peform. Robert Cooper is a stickler for accuracy, so it will be interesting to see how he tackles this problem with this weekend's performances.

The St. John Passion, the lesser-known of the two surviving Bach Passion works, calls for four soloists, four-part chorus and a large orchestra. It is sort of an equivalent of the Passion Play, with part of the story dealing with the arrest, trial and crucifixion, with the words of the historical persons, namely Christ, Pilate, Peter and John as Evangelist, set as recitatives. The chorus plays the part of the crowd, made up of soldiers, priests and the general populace. So anyone familiar with the Lord's Passion on Easter weekend will be very familiar with the story told in the music here.

There are still tickets available for both performances, through a chorus member or calling the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257. Saturday evening's performance is at the expansive Mountainview Christian Reformed Church on Main Street West in Grimsby; Sunday afternoon's performance is at the more traditional Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines. Either venue will provide great acoustics and sight-lines, so you basically look at which time works best for you and which location is closest to you.

Once again, I will be in the lobby at intermission and after each performance with a wealth of great choral music for sale, including, of course, recordings of the St. John Passion. I have several copies of the Netherlands Choral Society performing the work for sale this weekend, either at the concerts or through my website, A Web of Fine Music, at You can either email me at or phone my office at 905-682-9303.

Enjoy the music this weekend!

March 5th, 2010.

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