Uwe Grodd, dramatically spotlit against shadowy ranks of choristers, kept words to a minimum, introducing the Bach Bruckner concert - and the performances that followed more than lived up to promotional material promising that this mighty combo of Bach, Bruckner, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Auckland Choral would deliver a powerful punch.
By way of an overture, Philip Smith made Bach's D minor Toccata and Fugue a showcase for our magnificent Auckland Town Hall organ, moving from spine-tingling grandeur to the most delicate of colourings. Three short choral items both played favourites with a spry, confident stride through Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and exposing many, I suspect for the first time, to the special world of Bruckner's a cappella motets.
Although a little testing for the choristers, these proved the perfect introduction to the devout man who wrote them, hailing Jesus with a glorious blaze of major in Ave Maria, and similarly laying down the laws of God in Os Justi Meditabitur.
The first half of the concert ended with lively, well-sprung Bach, his A minor Violin Concerto being deftly tailored by soloist Andrew Beer, leading a smallish group of his APO colleagues. The Andante, in particular, was exquisitely shaped, with telling interplay from the lower strings.
The opportunity to experience Bruckner's great D minor Mass is something to be cherished, a monument to the tradition of sumptuous late Romantic choral music, with hints of symphonies yet to come from its composer. Like much of Bruckner's music, this work juxtaposes the naive and sophisticated and Grodd's authoritative baton balanced both within an overall structure of almost architectural strength and cohesion.
The four soloists, Isabella Moore, Sally-Anne Russell, Robert Macfarlane and Joel Amosa, did not have grand arias but made their musicianship count in small and often rapturous moments. The choir revelled in its many bursts of optimism and fervour, while the APO did full justice to some often extraordinary writing
What: Auckland Choral – Bach Bruckner
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart