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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Bach St John Passion; Messiah; Mozart’s Coronation

01 April, 2021 — By Michael White

JS Bach

THE good news this week is that the BBC has committed to running a proper Proms season from July through to September. So hurrah for that: a glimmer of normality on the horizon.

More immediately though, we face a second silent Easter without the great choral spectacles that people turn to at this time of year. But thanks to period performance practice and the pared-downed forces it encourages, there’s actually more happening than you’d expect – albeit online. And my main recommendation for the Easter weekend is a (relatively big) Bach St John Passion livestreamed free at 7pm Good Friday from the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm.

The chief draw is Christian Gerhaher, dream-ticket German oratorio singer of our time, singing Jesus. And though it’s a Swedish production, there’s strong British input from conductor Daniel Harding with singers Matthew Rose and Andrew Staples (also billed as visual director, which suggests that what you’ll see is more than just a stand-and-sing job). www.berwaldhallen.se/play

Of several Messiahs on offer, you might want to watch the one on BBC TV, 6pm, Holy Saturday – but it comes from ENO which, even in its glory days, was never an ideal ensemble for this kind of music. So no soaring expectations there.

A better bet is the Messiah from ENO’s neighbour St Martin-in-the-Fields, done by the celebrated Academy of St Martin’s with soloists including Carolyn Sampson: 7.30pm, April 8. Tickets £10. www.smitf.org/fresh-horizons

But better still, try the Messiah at 7pm Easter Monday from Handel’s own parish church, St George’s Hanover Sq: a co-production between the London Handel Festival and St John’s Smith Square Holy Week Festival. Conducted by the leading Handel scholar/player Laurence Cummings, with star countertenor Iestyn Davies, it’s billed as part-live, part-virtual – with the choruses zoom-fed into the performance by voices from across the world. This may or may not work, but sounds interesting. Free-access: www.london-handel-festival.com/show/messiah-reimagined

• Other things in the Smith Square Festival include a free performance of the Tallis Lamentations, 6.30pm Good Friday, and a ticketed Bach Matthew Passion done on the very smallest scale, one-to-a-part, by the young Amici Voices, 6.30pm Holy Saturday. Details: www.sjss.org.uk . Meanwhile, over at Wigmore Hall, you can watch an earlier Matthew Passion by the 17th century composer Johann Sebastiani, from period band Fretwork, 3pm Good Friday. And next day, that most elite of vocal groups The Sixteen sing the English Tudor repertoire they do so brilliantly, 7.30pm Holy Saturday. Both free access: www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/live

• A final word: though many churches are struggling musically, there are a few around who’ve been doing everything they can to deliver choral services within safe Covid guidelines. And particularly prominent this Easter is All Hallows Gospel Oak, where at 11am Easter Sunday you can hear a small, professional ensemble sing Mozart’s Coronation Mass – with more music by Mozart and Lotti at 8pm Holy Saturday. There’s no substitute for the experience of great liturgical music done liturgically. And as All Hallows has just had a facelift, with impressive new lighting, it will look as beautiful as it sounds. www.allhallowsgospeloak.org

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