Concert review: Auckland Choral, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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Organist John Wells.
Organist John Wells.

Auckland Choral's War and Peace opened dramatically. After an orchestral tune-up, it was organist John Wells who launched this Anzac Day commemoration of the Great War.

The stage was flooded in red light for Bach's great D minor Toccata and Fugue. The toccata was a fiery flourish; its fugue, immaculately voiced, drew effective and sometimes unexpected colours from the instrument.

The first choral offering was a Requiem by Michael Renhart, who moved to New Zealand from Germany in 1977.

One could sense the deep respect that conductor Uwe Grodd has for this ambitious score and, despite a few too many dry fugal moments, it was thought-provoking to hear a Dies Irae free of fire and brimstone.

Nothing, however, eclipsed Morag Atchison soaring over Renhart's opening pages, or the soprano's sensitive duet work, later on, with tenor Derek Hill.

David Hamilton's Anthem for Doomed Youth was shorter and more immediate, evoking the elegiac lyricism of Wilfred Owen.

Hamilton's conservative idiom brought the glow of choral confidence, despite some wan textures from Pipers Sinfonia's strings. Derek Hill was in good voice for his powerfully etched solo.

After interval, there were speeches from the German ambassador and the President of the Foundation for Peace Studies; three Rangitoto College students read the rather sentimental Poppies & Pohutukawa.

Grodd was in his element for Haydn's Mass in Time of War that followed.

He revealed the symphonic strengths of its longer movements while Pipers Sinfonia offered solid support and more than that, when woodwind players responded to Haydn's vivid writing.

The choir maintained focus through demanding passages, with only the occasional flagging of energy.

The four soloists were memorably showcased in the Benedictus, but Atchison was a forceful presence from the start, her bright coloratura in the Kyrie being the perfect foil for Bianca Andrew's dark-hued mezzo.

Despite the distractions of a rather ragged cello obbligato, Australian bass James Clayton provided another highlight, with the impressive plea of his Qui tollis peccata mundi.

Classical music review

What: Auckland Choral
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Friday.

- NZ Herald

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