Wigmore Hall’s spring series of 40 concerts culminates in Easter week with daily livestreamed concerts by UK’s leading choirs and baroque ensembles performing five centuries of sacred and liturgical music.
For the first time in many decades, Wigmore Hall will stage a concert on Good Friday 2 April. For this special afternoon concert, the viol consort Fretwork will give the first UK public performance in a century of St Matthew Passion by the 17th century German composer Johann Sebastiani.
Written in 1672, half a century before Bach’s celebrated and universally performed version, Sebastiani’s setting of Matthew’s Gospel is approximately 90 minutes in duration, drastically shorter than conventional performances of the Bach Passion that can run between 160 and 220 minutes. Employing a consort of four viols, a pair of violins and five solo voices, the Sebastiani is free of the extended operatic arias and choruses, for which Bach was criticised in his time.
Richard Boothby, viol player and co-founder of Fretwork, said, ‘The growth of popularity of the Bach Passions over the last 50 years has unwittingly put earlier tellings of the Passion story into obscurity. Apart from its historic importance, Sebastiani’s simple, intimate and direct setting deserves to be heard. One lovely aspect of the work is the interpolation of several well-known chorales that are beautifully set to viol accompaniment. He was the first composer to do this.’
Born in Weimar in 1622, Johann Sebastiani spent his working life in Königsberg, then the northernmost extent of Prussia, and is now Kaliningrad, part of the Russian oblast surrounded by Lithuania and Poland. Rare for its time, Sebastiani’s St Matthew Passion was published as a performance edition in his lifetime and could very well have been heard by Bach in Leipzig.
Wigmore Hall’s Easter celebrations begins on Tuesday 30 March with a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with countertenor Iestyn Davies, soprano Carolyn Sampson and the chamber ensemble Arcangelo. Easter Day will be marked by a programme of English Renaissance music performed by The Sixteen.
Wigmore Hall director John Gilhooly said, ‘As a time of reflection and renewal, Easter is the ideal time of the year to spotlight UK’s top choirs and ensembles who excel in the performance of Renaissance and Baroque music. It is a unique tradition and an envy of the world.’