Review: Portsmouth Choral Union, St Mary’s Church

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On a bitterly cold night, a packed audience at St Mary’s Church was warmed by a stunning performance of Bach’s dramatic St John Passion.

Portsmouth Choral Union and their orchestra, Southern Pro Musica, produced a masterly rendition under the assured baton of David Gostick.

The choir’s dynamic range was particularly impressive as they brought drama and pathos to Bach’s inspired writing. Noteworthy, too, is the vocal blend in the choir. A fine group of soloists included John Graham Hall as the Evangelist. His diction and conviction were superb, not least because he was drafted into the programme (via Facebook!) only a few hours before the performance. Particularly moving was the duet between mezzo Kate Howden and cellist David Burrowes, which was performed with exquisite tenderness. Many audience members were deeply affected by the emotion of this movement.

Southern Pro Musica is an orchestra of distinction consisting of first-rate musicians. Despite the chill in the air, string-players’ fingers remained lively and accurate, producing a wonderfully bright sound.

Last year, PCU suffered the trauma of losing their talismanic conductor, Jonathan Willcocks.

On the evidence of last night, the wound has healed completely. David Gostick is a worthy successor.