Aldeburgh blunts Bach's Passion
Tweeting during concerts is bad enough, but what went on during yesterday's St John Passion at Snape Maltings was even worse. I knew Aldeburgh had finally caught the popularising bug when an amplified Blake Morrison appeared on the platform to preface the opening Herr, unser Herrscher with a reading from John's gospel. But there was worse to come. At the end of the first part of the Passion, even as the echoes of Bach's immensely moving chorale Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück lingered in the mighty roof space of the Maltings, Blake Morrison returned to join the musicians. He then proceeded to deliver a fifteen minute monologue expanding on the delights of his recent coach trip to Petra, after which we were allowed to escape from the auditorium to the Snape bar.
Thankfully, during the second half there were no further appearances by Mr Morrison. However, Bach's sublime score and the exemplary musicianship of the Britten–Pears Baroque Orchestra and vocal soloists directed by Mark Padmore struggled against a constant melodramatic reshuffling of the musical forces that made the Maltings platform at times resemble a railway station in the rush hour. As I walked back to my car after the concert I swear I heard the sound of something turning in a grave in nearby Aldeburgh Church.
* Bach's St John Passion accompanied by Blake Morrison can be heard again at Snape Maltings on Easter Sunday. Concert goers on Sunday will not be able to experience the unalloyed tedium of the Very Reverend Dr John Drury's pre-concert talk as it is not being repeated then. Britten's own Snape recording of the St John Passion is also naughty, but it is nice as well.
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The constant reshuffling seemed to be part of the current fashion for 'semi-staged' Passions.
At some point it will be realised that the Bach's masterpieces do not need 'improving'.
But talk imposed on the audience during the event? Not for me. I would have been sorely tempted to leave after the music and beat the crowds to the bar.
Among those in the audience for the pre-concert talk was Mark Padmore. Which may explain why he sang the part of the Evangelist in the same clothes that he wore for the talk.
It was unfortunate that Dr Drury's talk was opaque and boring. But it was impolite on his part to allow it to overrun by twenty minutes. And it was unbelivable that a further fifteen minute talk by Blake Morrison was then inflicted on those of us who attended the pre-concert event.
I was very tempted to beat the crowds to the bar as you suggest. But Snape, although not as bad as Bayreuth, has limited aisle access and it would have been a herculean task to have left during the talk without major disruption.
My conversation with other concertgoers after the Blake Morrison sermon confirmed I was not the only one who is going to remember the evening for reasons other than the intensity of the musical experience.