Classical review: Dreaming of a German Christmas

By William Dart

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Bach Musica delivers a yuletide surprise for the year's end.

Soprano Morag Atchison gave Maria a true Wagnerian treatment. Photo / Supplied
Soprano Morag Atchison gave Maria a true Wagnerian treatment. Photo / Supplied

Basing its final concert for the year on Sunday around the theme of a German Christmas was a shrewd move for Bach Musica. Conductor Rita Paczian has always been drawn to the obscure and forgotten; programmes have often featured the New Zealand premieres of music first heard on the other side of the world a century or more ago.

On Sunday the rarity was the 1890 Der Stern von Bethlehem, a cantata by German composer Josef Rheinberger, best remembered for his organ works and legendary pedantry as a teacher.

It was lightish fare, essentially Mendelssohnian in spirit, but substantially tinted with Wagnerian washes. Yet there was no denying its charm and, from the very first page, it offered the choristers the opportunity for strong, confident singing.

The orchestra, too, more than played its part, under Paczian's astute baton.

Richard Phillips, Tavis Gravatt and Anthony Schneider were a mellifluous Three Wise Men and Morag Atchison was a soprano with the vocal armament to give her Maria aria its Wagnerian dues.

Earlier, Bach's D minor Double Concerto had no shortage of energy and spirit. Of the two soloists, Sarah McCracken and Justine Cormack, Cormack presented the sharper profile in a work that very much pits the one violin against the other.

I could have forgone a selection of German Christmas carols presented in somewhat pedestrian arrangements although even here there were surprises. The first was having Handel's See the conquering hero comes presented as Tochter Zion, freue dich; the second, a sentimental but pretty Silent Night, centred around the liquid tones of Ji Yin's harp.

The good news for Bach Musica is that next year the group leaves the cathedral for the better acoustics of Baradene College's auditorium and Auckland Town Hall, with a set of five attractive evening concerts. Some first-rate soloists have been engaged and, in May, they will offer a long overdue nod to women composers from Fanny Mendelssohn and Cecile Chaminade to our own Dorothy Buchanan and Leonie Holmes.


Classical review

What: Bach Musica
Where: Holy Trinity Cathedral

- NZ Herald

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