DOUAI Abbey is one of the most amazing spaces in which I have heard music performed — perfect for a
DOUAI Abbey is one of the most amazing spaces in which I have heard music performed — perfect for a sacred oratorio such as Bach’s St John Passion.
The blend of the old and modern architecture in the abbey takes you by surprise at first and the high columns and arches are almost begging for some sound to be transmitted so they can apply echoes and reverberations to the original sound. However, I imagine it’s not easy to sing or play in this space; only the best of musicians can play to their strengths.
Comparisons are always made between Bach’s St John Passion and St Matthew Passion. The former is sometimes said to be unfinished, less sophisticated and more brassy than the latter. It’s a big work which requires powerful singers.
The part of the Evangelist is very long and exacting, but Thomas Hobbs was extremely consistent in this part, linking the arias and choruses together well. Susanna Hurrell (soprano) had a beautiful voice that floated over the orchestra. Terence Ayebare (Christus) and Simon Lasker Wallfisch (Pilate) also had fine voices. Katie Bray (mezzo soprano) had some difficulty penetrating the orchestra at first but she, too, had a fine singing voice.
The choir launched an immediate attack on to the piece — every note in place and a complete blending of parts with the soprano line floating around the building’s high-vaulted ceiling. It made everybody sit up and take notice. They continued this throughout — it was clear we were listening to a very skilled and disciplined choir at work.
The diction was good — though it was helpful to have a translation of the German in the programme. The choir reverted to some contemplative singing for many of the work’s chorales and this was again reflected well in the beautiful acoustics. The penultimate chorus Ruht Wohl (Rest Well) was very moving as it brought the story to its inevitable conclusion.
This was a really excellent concert conducted by Matthew Hamilton who directed the choir, orchestra and soloists in a proficient style without any wild embellishments, but with clear simple conducting.