The passion of the choir
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The passion of the choir

St Matthew Passion. Music by Johann Sebastian Bach, libretto by Picander. The Llewellyn Choir, augmented by the Llewellyn Sinfonia, conducted by Rowan Harvey-Martin. Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music, Saturday, April 5, 7.30pm. Tickets $20-$45. Bookings: ticketek.com.au or 132 849.

In the lead-up to Easter, the Llewellyn Choir is presenting one of the major choral works of Bach, the St Matthew Passion (1727), conducted by Rowan Harvey-Martin.

Spiritual ... Rowan Harvey-Martin will conduct Bach?s masterful and moving work.

Spiritual ... Rowan Harvey-Martin will conduct Bach?s masterful and moving work.

The work, telling the story of the Passion of Jesus Christ, will be presented on a large scale, with two orchestras, each with 15 members, and two choir ensembles - the Llewellyn Choir will be joined by guest choristers from the Canberra Choral Society, the ANU Choral Society, Radford College and the Canberra Children's Choir for a total of about 140 singers, including soloists Christopher Lincoln Bogg (tenor), Rebecca Collins (soprano), Michael Martin (tenor), Jeremy Tatchell (bass/baritone) as Jesus, Christina Wilson (mezzo-soprano) and Michael Tatchell (bass).

''A lot of people come out to sing it,'' Harvey-Martin says.

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This is the second performance Harvey-Martin has conducted of the St Matthew Passion by the choir; the first was in 2012 at Canberra Girls' Grammar School. Harvey-Martin hopes to make it a two-yearly tradition to perform the work for Easter.

''As a work, for me it is perfect in the way it tells its story,'' she says.

''It is the Passion of Christ from His betrayal and leading up to His crucifixion.''

She wants people to feel the drama of the occasion and how people can be led - the shifting moods in the crowd scenes are a major part of the work - as well as the spiritual dimension.

''For me it is a deeply religious work. I have spiritual beliefs myself,'' she says.

But it is also a very human work and a beautiful story, and she wants the performance to convey these elements, too.

''I want there to be a human connection with the audience.''

Harvey-Martin says she has abridged the work, but it still runs for about three hours. It will be sung in German - the language in which it was written - but an English translation by Johanna McBride will be projected onto a screen so non-German-speakers can follow the narrative. ''It has a very immediate impact for the audience.''

She particularly loves the opening and closing choruses. The former, Kommt, ihr Tochter, helft mir klagen (''Come ye daughters, help me lament''), dramatically establishes the sense of loss, and the latter, Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder (''We sit down in tears''), ends with the death and entombment of Jesus after His sacrifice.

Harvey-Martin says the previous performance left people moved. She hopes it will have the same effect this year.

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.