Review of September 2018 Concert

BACH AT ITS BEST

The September concert of the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra presented a non-stop performance of Bach’s St John Passion sung in the original German.  The Hamilton Civic Choir were joined by an impressive line-up of soloists – soprano Jayne Tankersley, mezzo Sarah Court, tenor Lachlan Craig, baritone Ian Campbell and bass-baritone Joel Amosa.  Cellist James Bush gave some wonderful supporting obligati for several solos.  The management thoughtfully provided the English text so that audience members were able to follow the sung German virtually “word for word”.

Many classical music lovers regard J.S. Bach as the “Father of music” and he commands universal respect.  He has total respect for melody, harmony and counterpoint, and you will never hear a “bum-note” in any of his works.  The St John Passion was composed for a Good Friday Service in his Lutheran Church in Leipzig in 1724.   It follows the events in Chapters 18 and 19 of John’s gospel, with the Evangelist mainly narrating the story, and Jesus and Pilate responding.

The forty strong Hamilton Civic Choir formed a half circle completely enclosing the orchestra, with the females on the left and the males on the right.  This positioning enabled all choristers to have a clear view of conductor Timothy Carpenter who gave very polished direction from the podium.   The Passion is a well-balanced work with recitatives interspersed with choruses and chorales while delivering a coherent narrative.  Mezzo Sarah Court sang the first solo aria with a delicate obligato provided by two oboes and a bassoon alone.   This was quickly followed by soprano Jayne Tankersley whose aria was very well supported by cello obligato played by James Bush.  He did the same for a later mezzo aria sung by Sarah Court.   The Evangelist delivered all of his recitatives from the pulpit high above all else and we heard every word.  It was a joy to hear Joel Amosa, winner of the recent Lexus Song Quest.  His bass baritone voice had the resonant cutting edge to carry over the orchestra, even when singing pianissimo.

The whole work was presented without any interval, and rightly so.  It would have been impossible to make a break in this work without losing the thread and drama, and general impact.   In the second half of the program, the tension built and maintained right to the final chorale.   All in all, we heard some superb singing by all of the soloists, and indeed the Choir itself and very fine playing by the orchestra.  The capacity audience showed their appreciation with prolonged applause.

The final concert in the 2018 series will be on Sunday 18th November, and will feature conductor, Tianyi Lu, and oboe soloist Bede Hanley.   The program will include Douglas Lilburn’s Drysdale Overture, Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto, and Brahms’ 3rd Symphony.

Robert O’Hara