Judging by the near-capacity audience for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's performance on Thursday of Bach's B minor Mass, our city's choral tradition is still thriving.

The most demanding of the orchestra's Choral Masterpieces series to date, this concert benefited from a smaller band of players, some expert soloists and the prime asset of Stephen Layton. The English conductor is justly celebrated in this area and one could see why from the first few bars of the opening Kyrie eleison.

The finely-gauged balance of forces here was a harbinger of much exquisiteness to come. The voices of the University of Auckland Chamber Choir revealed the advantages of youthful vitality, not to mention the meticulous training of Karen Grylls.

In the Largo that followed, the young singers effortlessly took on the immaculate articulation given out by the instrumental players.


There was jubilation in the Gloria and the Et resurrexit, all aglow with the brilliant gleam of the APO trumpets led by Brent Grapes, while the Hosanna, with further lacings of oboe d'amore, positively danced with joy. Never have I been so pleased to have this section reprised after the Benedictus.

Australian soprano Sara Macliver does not have a large voice, but it was beautifully governed, especially in an agile Laudamus Te, partnered by the deliciously airy violin of guest concertmaster Martin Riseley. Macliver was later joined by alto Kate Spence for a joyous Et in unum Dominum.

It was Spence who provided the final aria of the evening, Bach's Agnus Dei.

English tenor James Oxley gave us a clear, strong Benedictus, singing from memory, floating over the lovely sounds of flautist Catherine Bowie and Eliah Sakakushev von Bismarck's cello.

Bass Jared Holt did not seem so much at ease, especially in his Quoniam tu solus sanctus, which, set against Nicola Baker's rollicking horn obbligato, was tonally constricted and sorely lacking the resonance required.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall