The blaze of glory launching Bach's Christmas Oratorio is a High Baroque spine-tingler. On Sunday, signing off Bach Musica's season for the year, Rita Paczian and her musicians gave it a full and spectacular illumination.
The Town Hall was sparsely populated for this group's October presentation of Mendelssohn's St Paul, but Bach's seasonal alternative to the traditional Messiah drew the crowds.
Paczian has a directness of approach that suits this work well. The great choruses, agleam with the brilliant trumpet play of Huw Dann and his colleagues, lent an air of celebration. Each of the chorales that run through the score was given its own individuality.
Where some might have taken time out for reflection, pausing after each phrase, Paczian drove the music forward, tightening dramatic momentum.
This conductor knows how to underline Bach's ingenuity; early on, baritone Kieran Rayner was an impressive narrator between fragments of chorale from the sopranos, set against a backdrop of wafting double reeds.
Rayner continued with a remarkably fluent Grosser Herr, sparring with solo trumpet.
When the choristers gave out their praises of God in Part II, there was fervour and faith; a little before that, Paczian brought pastoral pliancy to the instrumental Sinfonia that opens that section.
She was alert to the lively polonaise fuelling the aria Nur ein Wink, marred slightly by some pinched high-register bids from soprano Nicola Holt.
Australian tenor Henry Choo is one of Bach Musica's reliable soloists.
His recitatives flowed convincingly, even if German consonants might have snapped a little more; graced with a shapely flute obbligato from Luca Manghi, he called the shepherds in his aria, Frohe Hirten, with breathtaking ease.
Sarah Court was an outstanding alto soloist when Bach Musica gave us this work in 2010. Three years have matured her voice and musicianship. From the start, she revealed how recitatives should tell stories and even take an emotional stand while, in arias, she showed the rare ability to make the most gnarly lines seem disarmingly natural.
What: Bach Musica
Where: Auckland Town Hall