Philip Reed
Choir & Organ
April 2015

Following on from their excellent recording of Chilcott's Requiem, Matthew Owens and the Wells Cathedral Choir have now set down the composer's St John Passion, which they premiered in 2013. Chilcott takes Bach's example as his model, though not without developing and adjusting it. Lasting for around an hour, Chilcott's Passion setting takes his narrative from the King James Bible, allocating a tenor Evangelist (here, the excellent and vivid Ed Lyon) with the story not in secco recitative but a more flowing arioso manner mainly supported by lower strings; Christ and Pilate feature as in Bach, as do the choir as soldiers, crowd, and so on. Bach's chorales are replaced by the words of five familiar Anglican hymns but set to new melodies by Chilcott. And Chilcott interpolates four 'meditations' (his equivalent to Bach's arias) using late medieval and renaissance texts. The results are powerful and compelling, the more so in this authoritative performance, with uniformly excellent soloists and the sensitive organ playing of Jonathan Vaughn. Chilcott's empathy with text and meaning are in evidence throughout, the musical and theatrical styles accessible and the composer's deeply humane responses to the crucifixion story moving. On the evidence of this fine recording, Chilcott's St John Passion will connect with audiences and performers.