The Welsh Camerata, Wales’s premier early music choir, performs Bach’s St Mark Passion on Good Friday, 25 March 2016, the 285th anniversary of its first performance. With soloists Sian Winstanley (soprano), Catherine King (mezzo), Peter Wilman (tenor), Stephen Hamnett (bass) and the Welsh Baroque Orchestra, the concert takes place at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama’s Dora Stoutzker Hall. Andrew Wilson-Dickson, Welsh Camerata’s Director, has reconstructed a brand-new version of the work and conducts this world premiere.
Johann Sebastian Bach is known to have composed four Passions, of which only two survive in their complete form: St Matthew and St John. The St Mark, written for Easter 1731, is a ‘parody’ work: owing to time pressures, Bach compiled most of it from music he had already composed for other purposes, a common practice at a time when new music was composed on a weekly basis and was not expected to be kept for posterity. Picander’s libretto survives in full, and some of the choruses which Bach used are known, but there are large swathes of the work – all the recitatives, most of the arias and the ‘turba’ choruses – which no longer exist.
A number of reconstructions have been attempted, some of them drawing on the music of Bach’s near contemporaries, others simply omitting some of the numbers. None of these present an ‘authentic’ experience of the original performance, and that is the aim with this version. It features fresh and vivid music newly composed in the style of the great master, skilfully blended with Bach’s own music. As both a composer and early music specialist, Welsh Camerata’s Director, Andrew Wilson-Dickson, is ideally suited to this task. It is not a mere academic exercise, but a genuinely dramatic setting for the re-telling of the Easter story. He says, “I imagine myself a pupil of Bach, helping him out in a moment of stress, when the demands and managerial attitudes of the Leipzig Town Council were becoming impossible, added to the needs of a burgeoning family.”
The performance will showcase this version of the Passion and the hope is that other choirs will add it to their repertoire, using a high quality downloadable performing edition, which will be available online through the publishers Canasg Music. The original score will be lodged in the archives of the RWCMD along with Andrew Wilson-Dickson’s working notes, and a recording will be made, providing the fullest possible resource for future generations of Bach enthusiasts.
The costs of the reconstruction, performance, publishing and recording are considerable, and grant funding is not forthcoming in the current economic climate. The Welsh Camerata is for the first time undertaking a crowdfunding initiative to defray some of these costs, with perks on offer including scores, recordings from the performance and a special commemorative mug. The campaign, on Indiegogo.com, has got off to a very good start, allowing many people to play their part in the restoration of this historic masterpiece to its rightful place in the choral repertoire.
Bach St Mark Passion
Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Castle Grounds, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3ER
Good Friday, 25 March 2016, 7pm
Pre-performance talk 6.30pm, free to ticket holders