Radio: At the Foot of the Cross; Bach: The Great Passion; My Body Clock Is Broken

By Chisholm, Kate | The Spectator, April 15, 2017 | Go to article overview

Radio: At the Foot of the Cross; Bach: The Great Passion; My Body Clock Is Broken


Chisholm, Kate, The Spectator


It's the oddest place to find a profound meditation on the death of Christ, but there it is on Radio 2 every year on the night of Good Friday, on the 'light music' station, and not on Radio 3 or Radio 4, where you might expect to find it. This year At the Foot of the Cross was sandwiched between Desmond Carrington -- All Time Great and Sara Cox's disco beats, the uncompromising reflections on the nature of belief adding a certain bite to the evening. Diane Louise Jordan and her host of guests at the Watford Colosseum (including the Bach Choir and the tenor Wynne Evans) created a sequence of words and music designed to encourage us to think about the grief of the disciples, the tyranny of Rome, the agony of Christ as he walked towards Golgotha.

This syncretism, the serendipity within the station schedules, goes back to the BBC's roots in the 1920s when there was less division between 'high' and 'low' art, culture and entertainment, the schools of science and the creative arts. The smooth transitions between radically different programmes uproot complacency by disrupting the usual flow with something not quite in tune. When it works, the surprise generated by the unexpected intensifies the experience of listening and creates a clarity and immediacy of understanding. Even if the Manga version of the Gospel story on Friday night was a little rough, and not quite King James, it was a refreshing way to hear the events being told, in the words of the street, as they might once have been, while the Mozart excerpts, from his Requiem, provided consolation not by avoiding the despair but by expressing it.

Another surprise was to find a play about the writing of Bach's St Matthew Passion on Radio 4, and not on 3, where you might have expected to come across it, especially since this was much less a drama than a tutorial on how to prepare for a performance of Bach's masterwork. In James Runcie's Bach: The Great Passion (directed by Eoin O'Callaghan), which goes out on air this evening, midway through the three-day vigil from Good Friday to Easter Day, we hear Bach (played by Simon Russell Beale) schooling his choristers, moving them from G major to B minor while asking them to imagine the pain of Christ's journey to the Cross, to draw it into themselves and make it personal.

This could have been rather stilted; how dramatic can you make a sequence of scenes where there is no narrative thrust other than the need to get the notes right before the performance? …

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