Bach Musica NZ's Christmas Surprise concert delivered delights above and beyond seasonal expectations.

Two carols reminded us that we're on the home run to December 25. Tenor Simon O'Neill was in splendid voice for a trumpet-laden Adeste fidelis, with choir and orchestra well marshalled by the dynamic Rita Paczian.

There was an air of celebration, too, in three movements from Bach's third orchestral suite. Despite perilous brass, its overture was suitably grand with scurrying contrapuntal intrigue; its famous Air was dispatched with shapely lyricism and the Gigue was an unabashed romp.

O'Neill was joined by bass Martin Snell for an impressive Good Friday scene from Wagner's Parsifal. These two New Zealanders brought Bayreuth credentials. Even with Paczian's ingeniously scaled-down orchestral forces, it was as if the opera's magician Klingsor had transported us to Wagner's woodland glade to experience this moving reunion of the aged Gurnemanz and the young Parsifal.

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For almost 20 minutes, one was spellbound by Snell's navigation of Wagner's merciless melodic manoeuvres and thrilled by O'Neill, singing without score and adding a palpable theatrical dimension.

After the saturated palette of Wagner, Gounod's St Cecilia Mass was almost transparently clear, a delicate French watercolour beside Wagner's rich Teutonic oil. It was the perfect vehicle for Paczian's very able choir and orchestra, from the firm, clarion harmonies of the Kyrie eleison to the striding confidence of the Credo.

Snell was joined by Alexandra Gandionco and Manase Latu, harmonising gently in the score's many trios. All acquitted themselves well in short solo turns, with Latu's glorious tenor having the advantage of introducing Gounod's lovely Sanctus, used so potently by Werner Herzog in his 1979 movie Nosferatu.

What: Bach Musica NZ
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart