What:

Musica Sacra

Where:

Auckland Town Hall

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When:

Tuesday

When one has grown accustomed to too many empty seats in worthy concerts, it was wonderful to see a full town hall for the first New Zealand appearance of Andreas Scholl.

Indra Hughes' courageous venture paid off magnificently, right down to the handsome programme book, written by the conductor with a style and wit an eighteenth-century reader would have appreciated.

What could have been a more appropriate overture for this king of countertenors than a Handel Coronation Anthem? Let thy hand be strengthened had Musica Sacra tempering genial pomposity with an affecting Larghetto, and the strings of AK Barok were in good spirits throughout.

A bracket of Handel arias revealed Scholl can effortlessly live up to his recordings. Ombra mai fu, impeccable in purity of tone, projection and breath control was introduced by its often overlooked recitative; of two Rodelinda arias, Vivi, tiranno was the brilliant showpiece it should be.

Bach's Vergnugte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust is made of sterner stuff, even if the composer contemplates sin with remarkable tunefulness.

Scholl's unexpected drop into baritone register in the first recitative for a mention of trampling was a nice touch while the breathtrap of the great Adagio aria posed no problems, a finely balanced dialogue with John Wells' organ obbligato.

After interval, the drama of Handel's Solomon came to life, peppered with lusty chorusing.

Pepe Becker's Queen of Sheba swept down the aisle in a spotlight and, although she did not match the vocal warmth of her fellow monarch, her ornamentation, especially in the startling close of Ev'ry sight these eyes behold was inspiring.

The inexhaustible Scholl, far from being the divo he could have been, fully engaged with his colleagues on stage and was in superb form throughout.

A storm of applause occasioned two encores.

The first, a fervently sung Wayfaring Stranger, suffered from an accompaniment that needed a little more "studio" resonance, especially from Jonathan Le Cocq's unamplified theorbo.

Finally, a rousing Fairest Isle almost made one feel that Purcell's song could have been about Aotearoa rather than Albion, so privileged had we been to experience such music-making.