Classical review: Women without too much wonder

By William Dart

Feel-good cheers spread from choristers, while symphonically the concert tended towards light side.

Bach Musica in concert. Photo / File
Bach Musica in concert. Photo / File

If Rita Paczian wanted to prove that female composers are on a par with their male counterparts, she needed stronger ammunition than the selection chosen for Bach Musica's Wonderful Women concert on Sunday.

Two unaccompanied plainsong hymns by Hildegard of Bingen were a good start, although it was difficult not to be distracted by the internet-derived "artist's representation" of the medieval abbess printed in the programme.

The choristers phrased persuasively, enjoying the occasional florid dalliances with words that caught Hildegard's fancy.

Soloists, up in the circle, were an effective and euphonious ploy, and we felt suitably welcomed.

At the other end of the concert, Leonie Holmes' The Journey, an effectively written 2005 commission for Manukau Symphony, brought the concert to a resounding close.

Earlier, Holmes' through coiled stillness revealed a more investigative composer. Writing for the University of Auckland chamber choir, she had created a clustered melange of childhood forest memories, tinctured with subtle touches of percussion.

After Holmes' few minutes of enchantment, Dorothy Buchanan's dated Song for the Year of the Child did its job of spreading feel-good cheer, while sidestepping musical complexities.

Buchanan's banalities were followed by Monika Broecking's conservative setting of Psalm 150, trailing a rather unconvincing style trip from Palestrina to Gershwin.

Symphonically, the concert tended towards the light side. Cecile Chaminade's elegant 1902 Flute Concertino was once described as "a nicely orchestrated confection", but a true Gallic grace and whimsy tested soloist Adrianna Lis and the orchestra. This music needed to flutter and soar like the birds and butterflies in the composer's popular salon pieces and it didn't.

We were also given two movements of Amy Beach's 1896 Gaelic Symphony, a work that is deep and perhaps irretrievably in the shadow of Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Alison Dunlop's oboe set off a lulling siciliana in its second movement, although later semiquaver scamperings challenged the strings somewhat.

Paczian, to her credit, did achieve a sense of cohesion in Beach's sprawling Lento, with musicianly solos from Mark Bennett and Liliya Arefyuva. But for a work penned in the same year as Mahler's Third, its wonderfulness was not of the first order.


What: Bach Musica
Where: Baradene Concert Hall

- NZ Herald

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