What: St John Passion
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir with St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra
When: Saturday, September 15, 2018
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter
Composer: JS Bach
The afternoon was warm. The conversation was of netball and children and the spring weather. The orchestra was tuned and the choir in situ, without rostra, in the sound shell sanctuary of St Peter’s Cathedral. Conductor Carpenter raised his baton. Slow silence, expectant, but not overdoing it. The baton was still. So were we. The baton moved and so did the orchestra, and an exquisitely balanced, sensitively tuned dynamically perfect sound emerged, lasted a few bars with a wee crescendo, the choir came in, and the world lit up.
Not just with spring sunlight, but a choral chord which was, like the orchestra’s introduction, perfectly pitched and balanced. The dynamic blast, however, from that first choral chord introducing the narrative of the last days of Christ, heralded nearly two unbroken hours of some of the best choral singing with the most enriching orchestral interpretation to have been heard in this most appropriate venue.
It was written nearly 300 years go and somehow, miraculously, Carpenter and his crews recreated that original sensibility and made it accessible to this 21st-century audience. In part it was through the immaculately cast soloists, from Lachlan Craig’s Evangelist to Ian Campbell’s Pilate and Joel Amosa’s superabundant bass as Christ. Partly it was the orchestral virtuosity and responsiveness to the moment, even enhancing Jayne Tankersley’s incomparable soprano.
There is a particular nod to James Bush’s sublime cello, including his lead into Sarah Court’s exquisite Es ist vollbracht , and Philip Smith’s consummate continuo marathon. Partly it was a matchless Civic Choir, at last paying attention to coach and so producing the pre-eminent performance.
The sopranos were tonally immaculate, and the blend with the altos would have turned 18th-century heads. From the opening chords to the majestic final chorale, Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein, this was uniquely beautiful Bach. The audience thanks you.
Sam Edwards, Waikato Times