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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Gareth Malone; Bach Passions; New York’s Metropolitan Opera

09 April, 2020 — By Michael White

Gareth Malone and Karen Gibson

ONE of the most depressing things about what’s happening to us all is that there’s not much evidence of Easter in the air. With churches closed and priests forbidden to hold services, there’s nowhere to access the liturgies and music that would otherwise bring comfort at this time of year.

But for everyone dutifully staying home on Good Friday, BBCRadio 3 has reached into its archives to broadcast both of the great Bach Passions. You can hear the St John at 2pm, done with a modest line-up of soloists and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. And more excitingly, there’s the St Matthew at 7pm with Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic, and stars like Magdalena Kozena (aka Mrs Rattle), Mark Padmore as the Evangelist, and the incomparable Christian Gerhaher as Jesus.

It’s a performance the Berlin Phil brought to the Proms in 2014, and memorable for the fact that it was staged by Peter Sellars. How much sense you’ll get of that from the recording I don’t know. But having been there in the audience, I remember it as powerful and profoundly moving: one of the supreme nights of the season that year.

Shamefully there’s almost nothing for a serious music-lover on TV this Easter – we’ve been let down by the Beeb there very badly. But one thing you can catch on BBC2 at 3pm Good Friday is a show where everybody’s favourite choirmaster Gareth Malone goes travelling the UK with gospel choir conductor Karen Gibson in search of Easter music-making (none of which, of course will actually be taking place). Part 2 is broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday at 10.10am.

And if you like Malone’s style, you should check out his new online project: the creation of a Great British Home Chorus in which you can take part from your sitting-room. He’s organising live-streamed warm-ups and rehearsals that can be accessed on Decca Records’ YouTube site. And if you register at they’ll contact you with details/times. As singing together is one of the best spirit-raising activities known to humankind, I recommend it.

Meanwhile, where the BBC has failed its Easter TV viewers, New York’s Metropolitan Opera has stepped forward. It continues to stream a different production every day from its filmed archive, available to UK audiences free of charge, any time from 12.30am to 11.30pm. And its offering for Good Friday is the opera that celebrates this day of the year, Wagner’s Parsifal.

This is a long-haul of a score with over four hours of music, but it’s not as though you’ll have so many other things to do. And with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role (singing better in 2013 when this was filmed that he managed at Covent Garden last month), the show is special.

Other specials from the Met this weekend are Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet with Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo on Saturday, and Donizetti’s cheering Don Pasquale with Anna Netrebko on Sunday. All you have to do is visit the website, And if you’re new to opera, the site will give you background information, plot-lines, interviews with singers… all you need to know to follow painlessly, and maybe get addicted.

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