What: Auckland Arts Festival - Passio
Where: Auckland Town Hall

Passio was not your traditional choral concert, but the full immersive festival experience.

Responding to Richard Davy's Renaissance composition St Matthew Passion, the late New Zealand composer Jack Body and colleagues David Farquhar, Lissa Meridan, Michael Norris, Gillian Whitehead and Ross Harris clothed the Davy original with their own music.

For 75 minutes, we were almost part of one of the greatest stories ever told.

With no surtitles, fluency in Latin would have helped to appreciate fully the eloquent and extensive chanting narrative of Lachlan Craig and Joel Amosa.

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This, together with Davy's choral outbursts, beautifully rendered by Voices New Zealand under Karen Grylls, were cast in ever-changing relief by each composer. Opposite Grylls, conductor Peter Scholes, secured a cohesive instrumental blend, in spite of sometimes fragmentary writing.

Passio exerts its own mystical power. We were almost lured into Gillian Whitehead's Gethsemane with wafting sonorous harmonies, and bristled when Body's mob vouched for Barabbas with stomping feet and muttering voices.

For the Crucifixion, Ross Harris' two imaginative orchestral interludes ended with soprano Madeleine Pierard, seemingly in heaven by the town hall organ, climaxing in a pure, redemptive top C.