Rita Paczian and Bach Musica NZ gifted us a timeless expression of grief and triumph from the stage of the Auckland Town Hall last night. From the first chord of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor, the Kyrie Eleison came the soundtrack for the sorrows of the Christchurch massacre. “Lord have mercy”, whichever God you choose, compassion in the aftermath and shock of losing a father, husband, mother, daughter while in prayer. Of living in a world where such massacres can happen. Classical music talks the big stuff when there can be no words complex enough.
From the outset, in the warm acoustic of the Great Hall, the audience was delivered into a hugely assured Bach sound. The best choral sounds in Auckland under a baton that was clear (almost autocratic when necessary) but drew a depth of resonance from band and singers that filled the ornamented chamber. The choral leaning into phrases was as emotive as a gospel choir, there is no less reason here to sing as if your life depended upon it.
Then a conductor who is capable of leaping onto the harpsichord and playing continuo (musical accompaniment) in a chamber music sound. Duet Christe eleison with crystal-clear soprano Elizabeth Mandeno and lyric mezzo Catrin Johnsson was a delightful blend of supple violins, light continuo accents and the weaving of the two women’s voices.
Once again astride her podium, Paczian lifted the choir into the strange surging waves of the second Kyrie and Bach’s way of inverting phrases, as if to look at meaning upside down.
The composition of J S Bach was included on board the Voyager spacecraft sent into space in 1977. Not only one excerpt but three, perhaps because this music has a universality and timelessness unlike any other. The music of Bach at a tempo between 50 and 80 beats per minute activates an interchange between the left and right brain and induces alpha waves which aid learning, creativity, interaction and problem-solving. That’s the scientific side. But the musical aspect is no less miraculous, a genius of contrapuntal composition that not only hangs together like the best maths but expresses the essence of being human with incredible beauty.
Performing Bach is not for the faint-hearted musician, it is technically as tough as it gets, Bach Musica NZ rose to the occasion with a huge depth of resonance and expressiveness.
It was most appropriate for Bach Musica NZ to choose their namesake for the opening concert for 2019. There were top class solo acts from the orchestra - Michael Bell on the mighty Great Hall organ was an astonishing dancer upon the pedalboard, his feet gliding like an ice skater while hands multi-tasked above. Oboist Alison Dunlop gave clear beautiful lines, Josh Rogan crimped amazing trills on trumpet, the languid legato of the leader of the orchestra, violinist Yanghe Yu in the mezzo aria Laudamus te and the gorgeous virtuoso of flautist Jenni Seddon-Mori in duet with violins in the Domine Deus.
The glorious trio of harpsichord, flute and the excellent cello continuo of James Bush gave a beautiful chamber feel for the sweet carrying tones of tenor soloist Andrew Grenon in a beautiful Benedictus.
There was still room for a few morsels on my Wish List. Some hit and miss french horn notes, not a huge scope for the rousing bass tones of James Harrison, perhaps a bigger-voiced mezzo-soprano might have worked in that big space. And a few less decorative notes in the upward phrases of mezzo aria Laudamus te. But that’s just making crumbs out of the glorious cake. So many beautiful moments between band and voice. And there was great sincerity and beauty in Catrin Johnsson’s aria Agnus Dei which struck right to our hearts.
But save the best until last, the Bach Musica NZ Choir was a shining triumph. When Paczian directed herself to her group of singers, they gave every last drop of music. The beauty of this group is that each singer performs as if they are soloist yet can blend like one sound. Gratias agimus tibi … ‘we give thanks’ was a full-bodied red wine with roundness of tone. Qui tollis pecata mundi expressed the griefs of the world in just four minutes. Cum Sancto Spiritu was astonishing, it lifted us with athletic vocal runs of notes and a big generosity of spirit for a huge finish to part one.
Performing Bach is not for the faint-hearted musician, it is technically as tough as it gets, Bach Musica NZ rose to the occasion with a huge depth of resonance and expressiveness. Thanks go to a fantastic line-up of soloists, orchestra, organist and choir but above all the huge talents of Rita Paczian for an evening of exhilarating Baroque vibrancy.
Bach Musica NZ’s next concert is on Sunday 26 May 2019 at 5pm in the Auckland Town Hall
- Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2
- Andrew Perkins Excerpts from Musical The Birds (World premiere)
Details at bachmusica.com/concerts2019