A short, sprightly Johann Stamitz symphony from the 1740s provided a sparkling overture for Auckland Choral's first 2019 concert.
The scholarly expertise of conductor Uwe Grodd in this field made for a rhythmically charged performance by Pipers Sinfonia. This was a rare and appreciated opportunity to hear a work that would have influenced the younger Haydn and Mozart, even if cathedral acoustics didn't always let zesty, darting violin lines fly from the mix.
It was the perfect teaser for the main offering of the evening, Haydn's mighty Nelson Mass. Written in 1798, when Napoleon's imperial ambitions held Europe in trepidation, this is one of the supreme flowerings of the classical style before the new romanticism took over with a new century.
Haydn's unfailingly inventive and optimistic score was suitably brightened by trumpets and timpani as well as Philip Smith's neatly turned contributions on the cathedral organ. Four able soloists were led by the ever-reliable Anna Leese, introducing herself with effortless coloratura in a rollicking Kyrie eleison, top notes ringing out clear and pure.
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There were passing moments of wanness in the choral ranks but not worrying enough to impinge on a full-voiced, sonorous Sanctus or a spirited Dona nobis pacem.
Grodd skilfully balanced massed and solo voices, especially during James Harrison's stirring Qui tollis peccata, marred only by the baritone's lack of bass credentials at the bottom of the stave.
This performance also saw the first orchestral presentation of Homecoming: Te Hokinga Mai, David Hamilton's setting of the well-known Vincent O'Sullivan poem, familiar to some from various Anzac commemorations.
Hamilton writes with strong emotional anchoring. The poet's nostalgic images of paddocks, hedges, marae and town communicate against rich string harmonies, ominous snare drum and poignant trumpet, the music deftly flowing from metre to metre.
Soloist Kate Webber, one of our most distinctive mezzos, lent her presence and burnished tone, even if a seasonal indisposition took its toll on her upper register.
What: Auckland Choral - Haydn Nelson Mass
Where: Holy Trinity Cathedral