Chorus, orchestra and soloists are all participants in the unfolding of Bach's setting of "The Passion According to St. John," but, ultimately, the drama resides with the Evangelist. The tenor who tells the story has it in his power to hold together the extensive forces and the sequence of arias, choruses and chorales, to set the stage for anger, irony, betrayal, sorrow and peace, and to make the quietest moments the most important ones.
Gene Tucker managed all this with consumate artistry Sunday night. Under Alvin Lunde's direction, and with the talented Washington Chamber Orchestra and the First Baptist Church Choir as collaborators, he fashioned a compelling performance of this work at the First Baptist Church. f
The Evangelist must perform these artistic sleights of hand with only the thinnest assistance the cello and harpsicord continuo -- and must paint each scene in the semimelodic word inflection of the recitative line. Tucker has a voice of such clarity and accuracy that his huge assignment seemed always easy and natural.
The other soloists, bass Henry Burroughs, soprano Patricia Kauffman, alto Nan Muntzing and bass Donald Boothman (a last-minute stand -in for the ailing Marvin Finley), were adequate, if not much more. And the chorus, energetically rhythmic, performed with conviction.
Through the first half of the program, the flow of music and story suffered from Lundee's tendency to allow long pauses between movements. Like a good coach, however, he regrouped at halftime and came out with a new game plan that emphasized a more rhythmic succession of movements. It was a great improvement.