This enormous and fabulous oratory was in our 2014 spring programme. I remember my disbelief when I saw the planned schedule. I might have even asked the choir committee ‘are you sure its not the Johannes Passion we will be doing?’ – this one has two choirs, two orchestras and a whole host of soloists.
What a revelation it was – my previous experience was to perform this work with large groups of 100 singers or more. Huw demonstrated how amazingly beautiful and equally monumental a small chamber choir and orchestra can perform the Matthäus Passion even better! It was one of the most wholesome and beautiful concerts ever: The brilliant baroque orchestra playing with historic instruments, baroque pitch and our small choir of about 27 singers mastering the double chorus fugues, the chorales and the theatrical chorus parts perfectly and beautifully.
The first chorus ‘Kommt ihr Töchter helft mir klagen’ is especially dear to me – singing the cantus firmus was my first big concert after joining the cathedral children’s choir in my home town Bremen, Germany. I remember very clearly how fascinated I was that we had our own line amidst the two choirs and orchestras – and how moving the music was for the little seven or eight year old girl singing.
For the Cantemus performance I joined a small group of singers on the balcony to sing the cantus firmus of the opening chorus once again – more than 4 decades after the Bremen concert. What an amazing feeling of recognition, beauty and eternity – this music was there long before I was born and has accompanied me since. Professor Hans Heinze, the respected Cathedral chorus master directing the concert in Bremen, took time to explain to the whole ensemble, kids and adults, how the cantus firmus ‘O Lamm Gottes unschuldig’ is the most important part of the opening chorus. Myself and the other children were pleasantly surprised about this unexpected attention and importance. But then Prof Heinze carried on: ‘…..and in fact I myself believe this cantus firmus is not just the main part of the opening chorus but the most important piece of the whole Matthäus Passion.’ – which of course made us kids brim with pride.
On balance and after all those years – I think I have to agree with him.