If you did not know Handel’s setting of the Brockes-Passion you may have enjoyed this performance of Denys Darlow’s abridged English version of it by the Sheffield Bach Choir.
The Handel scholar’s intentions were no doubt sincere, but he didn’t just abridge a fraction over three hours of music paring it down to under an hour, he decimated it!
Selecting the ‘best bits’, while retaining the Passion narrative, is highly subjective and there are many splendid arias, and a trio, that Darlow appears to have felt not worthy of cherry-picking. Also, puzzlingly, the opening Sinfonia – restored at this performance.
Clipping some of the Daughter of Zion’s 17 arias is understandable, though 12 is pretty drastic, but Judas (a countertenor) is left as a cipher, Pilate (bass) a little less so. Peter’s part is heavily curtailed, as are the dozen SATB arias of the four ‘Believers’, all of which balance the work’s structural and musical texture.
The two soloists left with the most music were excellent - in the case of John Dunford, little short of a revelation as the Evangelist and in the three tenor ‘Believer’ numbers – the only ones to escape excision!
Sarah Potter sang what survived of the Daughter of Zion’s contributions with touching simplicity, although the young soprano’s voice was perhaps not heard at its best in the unflattering acoustic.
A few of the other soloists, when heard, were a little iffy, but the Bach Choir sang with plenty of gusto and commitment – the chorale 'I stand before the lonely Cross' was particularly stirring – driven on by its entirely committed conductor Simon Lindley.
Earlier, three well-known choruses (two extremely familiar) by Bach were rendered with evenly balanced line; Alan Horsey made out a strong case for Handel’s organ concertos with a felicitous account of Op 4 No 5; and a seven-member National Festival Orchestra ensemble was impeccable throughout.