Building up to St John Passion

Members of St Albans Choral Society are preparing for a performance of Bach's intensely moving oratorio, the St John Passion, on Saturday 20 April.

Mark Dobell, tenor with The Sixteen and The Orlando Consort, and acclaimed soprano Helen-Jane Howells are two of a superb line-up of soloists who will join the choir for the performance in St Albans Abbey at 7.30pm. 

Dobell will have the demanding role of Evangelist in the Passion, which will be sung in the original German, accompanied by Orchestra Nova under the baton of George Vass, the Society's Musical Director. Charles Gibbs, bass, will take the part of Christ, while Howells, mezzo Clare McCaldin, tenor Christopher Bowen and baritone Michael Bundy will perform the other parts and arias. 

Although less well-known than the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion is often regarded as bolder and more dramatic, with its vivid scenes of Peter’s betrayal and of the trial and anguish of Christ combined with the intense hope and reflection of the opening and concluding choruses. 

The choir alternates between the theatricality of the 16 choruses, variously portraying the soldiers, the high priests, and the crowd baying for the blood of Jesus, and the lyric tenderness of the 11 chorales which culminate in a rousing vision of eternal life (Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein). 

Bach was the outstanding master of the oratorio passion, incorporating operatic recitatives, hymn-like chorales which were originally sung by the congregation, non-biblical poetic texts mixed with the Gospels, and extensive use of an orchestral ensemble. 

His St John Passion was first performed during Holy Week in 1724 as part of a church service, with a sermon preached between Part 1 and Part 2. Bach continued to revise it until the last years of his life, but it is the original version that remains most familiar today. 

Tickets priced £25, £20, £15 and £10 can be bought from SACS Ticket Line on 07884 231958, online at, or from the Information Desk, Chapter House, St Albans Abbey on 01727 860780.