Role: Christian Weiss
Robert Howarth musical director
Richard Williams director
Kate Semmens soprano
Andrew Watts countertenor
Tom Randle tenor
Singers from the Advanced Course
Dartington Baroque Orchestra
James Runcie's musical drama reveals how the St Matthew Passion was composed and rehearsed in the build-up to its first performance in Leipzig, on Good Friday 1727. It recreates the struggle and frustration of Bach's gargantuan undertaking, while retaining the intimacy, sympathy and profound beauty at the heart of the music.
Arriving in Leipzig, Bach - the newly appointed Kapellmeister - sets out his plan for the staging of the Passion and the story of the persecuted Christ. He intends that it will be directly personal music, written not in Latin but in German, using the words 'We' and 'I' for the choruses and arias. In a radical move for the time, he insists on the individual responsibility of every musician in the unfolding drama. The story, he insists, involves us all, and saves us all from the terror of death.
An exhausted Bach is increasingly impatient during rehearsals, interrupting and bullying his performers; so much so that his wife Anna Magdalena, though pregnant with her second child, is called on to mediate and prevent a walk out. Anna Magdalena can bring harmony to the rehearsals as well as the home, but it's a race against time to be ready for the first performance.