Concert Review: Bach Musica at Holy Trinity Cathedral

By William Dart

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Conductor John Mackay. Photo / Supplied
Conductor John Mackay. Photo / Supplied

Bach Musica's Jazz Meets Classical concert on Sunday opened with one of the most welcoming pieces imaginable - Pastime with Good Company. It was a jolly enough performance but, sorry folks, this was written by Henry VIII rather than Bach as credited in the programme.

Composers whizzed by in quick succession during the first half of the afternoon, giving the feel of an old-fashioned variety concert, which went down well with Bach Musica's loyal audience.

The deft-fingered John Mackay and his trio took us aboard Duke Ellington's A train, dropping us off, not in Harlem but in Buenos Aires, as accordionist Stephanie Poole offered some neatly played Piazzolla with the Bach Musica musicians. The promised jazz and classical mix came together most effectively in an exhilarating Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond Take Five, but this was pretty middle-of-the-road stuff.

Rita Paczian drew out the best singing in Ward Swingle's chorale-based L'amour de moi, no small feat when the "Swingle sound" is so microphone-dependent.

Later on, Bach's Little Organ Fugue proved more perilous for the choir.

We had sampled some shorter Mackay compositions but the intended highlight was the newly commissioned Notes on Water and Light. The opening minute or so of explorative orchestral sonorities proved a red herring, as this was a very conservative piece of writing.

How foolish to neither credit poets in the programme nor supply lyrics. Mackay read the words out, but this was not enough. The outer settings, the one rhyming "heebie-jeebies" with "skeezie-weezies" and the other based on Fred Flintstone exclamations, were strained in their facetiousness. In between, a simple Bill Manhire poem inspired an oasis of musical clarity.

Standing ovations were rewarded with an encore of Bach's C major prelude transformed into a waltzing Ave Maria. With xylophone and pizzicato strings, captured in Decca Phase Four stereo, this might have titillated; on this occasion it just seemed rather dull.

What: Bach Musica.

Where: Holy Trinity Cathedral.

- NZ Herald

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