St John Passion

Glasgow Cathedral

Keith Bruce

four stars

IT may be the briefer of Bach's gospel oratorios, but St John Passion was still a mighty undertaking for the student body of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a highlight for Glasgow Cathedral's Festival of Music.

With the eminent Bach scholar and director of the Dunedin Consort John Butt conducting proceedings in his largest collaboration with the city's student body to date, it was a prestigious showcase for the musical, and especially vocal, talent studying there at the moment. Some of these young people are very busy indeed. Tenor Kenneth Reid, who took on the huge responsibility of the narrating Evangelist, was in the contrasting role of a cross-dressing Hussar in Stavinsky's Mavra last weekend. Sunday evening saw him grow increasingly confident, and sound more relaxed, with the lengthy recitatives as the work progressed. Mezzo soprano Grace Durham took the contrasting tempi of the two sections of her aria Es ist vollbracht in her stride, having delivered a beautifully-selected programme of opera arias earlier in the day to win the 2016 Bruce Miller Gulliver Prize.

With the Grosse Choir rehearsed by head of vocal studies Stephen Robertson, and the nimbler Turba Choir by head of opera Timothy Dean, Butt had a chorale of over 60 and a chamber ensemble of more that 20 at his disposal, with all the solo turns shared out, alongside fine performances by Stefan Berkieta (Christus) and Colin Murray (Pilate). There were some lapses of intonation from both instrumentalists and singers, but they were more than outweighed by the moments of beautiful performance, like the oboe continuo accompanying alto Penelope Cousland, and the real drama in the demand for crucifixion at the start of Part Two.