St. Mark Passion in City

The St. John’s Singers, conducted by Hugh Fen with Leslie Owens (organ) performed Charles Wood’s setting of the St. Mark Passion at St. John’s Cathedral last evening.

Wood (1866-1926) was born in Ireland, and was Professor of Music at the Royal College, later at Cambridge. He wrote a body of religious music and also some songs

In this setting, the narrative of the Passion is continuous, being divided between the Evangelist and the chorus. The words of Jesus, Pilate and the others are sung respectively by the bass soloist and individual members of the chorus.

Aside from the opening and the closing chorus, there are no formal arias. The music seems concerned more to provide a dramatic ambiance for the text than to establish a self-sufficient musical correlative for the story and spirit of the Passion.

The style is not especially contemporary or inventive, but church music must communicate immediately, and Wood’s honest sincerity evoked the right devotional response.

Though light in men’s voices, the chorus achieved a spirited and forceful realisation of the action, and of the angry crowd. Malcolm MacKay (Evangelist) and Clifford Phillips (Jesus) coped effectively with an austere vocal line that is probably not entirely rewarding to sing.

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