One would struggle to come up with a more miserable day than this Good Friday.

On what is, to Christians, the most sombre day of the year, winter returns with a vengeance – heavy rain lashing the darkened streets and running down the faces of glum-looking tourists and shoppers.

By early afternoon in the awe-inspiring chapel of New College, things are about to get more miserable still.

For the first of an epic two-parter for the end of Holy Week, the superlative Oxford Bach Soloists performed the St John Passion.

The work, the middle of Bach’s three Leipzig Passions, is one of immense power and emotion. The subject matter – the betrayal, trial, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus – alone renders it harrowing. However, this world of suffering and pain is delivered in the most beautiful means possible – by singers, soloists and chorus, possessed of the most incredible voices and accompanied by outrageously talented musicians under the baton of Tom Hammond-Davies.

The result is captivating and deeply moving.

Performed in German, translated in the excellent programme, we follow the story from Jesus’s arrest by the temple guards in the Garden of Gethsemane, beginning with a powerfully rousing chorus, a taste of Bach’s mastery of harmony and timing through repetition, and those first unified voices blasting our hearts out with the shout of “Herr, unser Herrscher... (Oh Lord our Ruler...”

It is dramatic, stirring and strangely terrifying.

The soloists stand to either side of the chorus, Stefan Kennedy taking on the big job of Evangelist (narrator) his voice stirring and crystal-clear, and engaging in some glorious sung conversational moments in exchanges with Jesus (Humphrey Thompson) and Pilate (George Robarts) and others – extremely strong singers all, with impeccable diction.

The moments of despair are interwoven with lighter instrumental interludes and rousing chorales of great beauty.

By turns majestic and intimate, it seems that it is we who are being challenged and provoked – pulled into the emotional maelstrom and forced to reflect.

As the story unfurls and Christ is murdered and his body lain in the tomb, we are sent on our way with one final chorale – a piece of extraordinary beauty and emotional weight.

The performance ends in silence, the singers and musicians exiting in single file, leaving behind them just the great carved stone chapel reredos – a towering wall of carved angels and saints – with at its centre Christ, arms raised, looking down on us. Exquisite.