Theatre review: Bach Musica, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

Rita Paczian during a preview of St Matthew Passion. Photo / Supplied
Rita Paczian during a preview of St Matthew Passion. Photo / Supplied

Bach Musica launched its 2012 season on Sunday with what is arguably the summit of all choral music - Bach's St Matthew Passion.

The opening chorus, with its full contingent of double orchestra and choir, together with four children's choirs, was impressive. Rita Paczian drew a generous, full-blooded sound from her choristers, even if phrasing could occasionally have been more finely nuanced.

The Bach Musica singers made the very most of the spacious town hall acoustics. Their cry of "Barrabas" was cataclysmic; and they enjoyed catching the malevolence of the mob determined that Jesus should be crucified.

The many chorales punctuating the score all came with their own individual character.

David Hamilton is rightly celebrated for his performances as the Evangelist, dealing out finely pointed drama above the lightest of accompaniment.

Just once or twice there was a hint of tightness in the voice, but the Scottish tenor still has an enviable flexibility with Bach's jagged lines, and was not afraid to deliver passion when required.

Alongside him, Anthony Schneider's Jesus betrayed the youth of the singer. The bass was musicianly enough, but without the weight needed, especially in the lower register, to invest the role with the demanded authority.

Amongst the other soloists, Sarah Court was totally aware of Bach's demands. Her great Erbarme dich, sung against Sarah McCracken's violin obbligato, was the absolute highlight of the evening, as the alto navigated the long arching melodies of the aria.

Soprano Nicola Edgecome was less effective, with worrying intonation and Jared Holt disappointed in his arias, with notes smudged by an unfortunate vibrato, creating an effect a little like ink spreading on blotting paper.

The bass worked better in the more dramatic pages, in recitative, as the character of Pontius Pilate.

Although there were tired patches in the strings - particularly from the second orchestra, the woodwind were unfailingly crisp and idiomatic. Alison Dunlop and Alison Jepson gave of their considerable best in the extensive oboe writing.

Amongst other soloists, Luca Manghi and Mark Bennett played with style and shapeliness, while Timothy Noon complemented Court's lovely singing with the liquid chamber organ tones.

What: Bach Musica
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Sunday

- NZ Herald

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