St John Passion
Johannes Passion BWV 245 (1724)
Damien Guillon, direction musicale
Thomas Hobbs, Evangeliste
Benoît Arnould, Jesus
Céline Scheen, soprano
Paul-Antoine Benos-Dijan, alto
Christopher Lowrey, alto *
Nicholas Scott, ténor
Tobias Berndt, basse
Maîtrise de Bretagne dir. Jean-Michel Noël
Choeur de chambre Mélisme(s) dir. Gildas Pungier
Le Banquet Céleste
As a major piece from the Baroque musical repertoire, St John Passion was composed the very first year J.S. Bach started working as Cantor at St Thomas in Leipzig, and it was performed there on 7 April 1724.
This Passion is a real musical drama comprised of alternating recitatives and choirs depicting it – in which several ariosos, arias and chorales provide further theological comments or thoughts pertaining to the unfolding events. Two free monumental choirs surround the work, which is divided into two main parts.
At the very heart of the piece is a Gospel account, told on several levels – first of all the evangelist playing the role of the narrator, followed by the various characters (Jesus, Peter, Pilate) played by soloists, and lastly the choir embodying in turn the crowd and the high priests.
The choir’s role is thus primary in this work, and this is one of the reasons that motivated the choice of this piece – aiming to return to the work’s creative sources, using a children’s choir like at the time J.S. Bach used to perform it.
Indeed, when living in Leipzig the composer had a children’s choir available; they were very probably excellent singers and it was for them that he wrote a large part of his vocal pieces. Our current project associates the Maîtrise de Bretagne children’s choir – supported by the Region of Brittany since its creation and whose excellent work no longer needs to be proven – and Exeter Cathedral’s Choir (the town is twinned with Rennes), a long-standing cornerstone of traditional vocals for Cathedral Choirs in England and a world-renowned reference.
The Banquet Céleste ensemble’s conductor, Damien Guillon, was the one who decided to unite both children’s choirs. He was trained from a very young age by the Maîtrise de Bretagne choir and is now leading a career as an international soloist and conductor of his own ensemble. He used to dream of uniting two high-level children’s choirs and associating them with his Baroque orchestra, so the musical piece could be conveyed in the closest way possible to the original.