Monday, April 18, 2011

Prolonged ovation for triumphant performance

Review of the performance of Bach's Mass in B minor, Dunedin Town Hall, Saturday 16 April 2011, by Elizabeth Bouman (Otago Daily Times, Monday 18 April 2011).

Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor was completed in 1749, and to this day remains a behemoth in large choral repertoire.

On Saturday evening in the Dunedin Town Hall the Mass was presented by 90-member City of Dunedin Choir with Southern Sinfonia and guest soloists soprano Lois Johnston, mezzo-soprano Sarah Court, tenor John Murray and baritone Daniel O'Connor, and conducted by David Burchell.

The choir has been rehearsing since late last year. Like long-distance runners, all were on a high after the experience of training for and completing their marathon, and it is indeed highly exhilarating to negotiate thousands and thousands of notes to reach the final page in triumph.

The audience rewarded with prolonged ovation, having experienced varied satisfaction along the way. Particularly memorable for the bystander were many passages where solo wood-wind, string or brass featured, such as oboe and bassoon highlights in the bass aria Et in Spiritum sanctum and flute obligato in the tenor aria Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

The opening Kyrie eleison was slow to settle, initially presenting rather light and under-defined. The intense melismatic style of this work demands very slick scalic vocal ability, and the clarity of many phrases was slurred and rather blurry, resulting in approximation rather than precision. Consequently, the overall effect often lacked pulse and spritely forward drive, but as the work progressed the big textured choruses were generally exciting, despite accurately intoned soprano top register appearing under-strength.

The best aria for me was the deep rich tone and pleasing legato lines of the mezzo Agnus Dei. The soprano's quality was beautiful, but decidedly lacking in rapport through seldom looking away from the score. The young emerging baritone gave a very creditable performance throughout and the tenor also delivered well.

All thanks and credit should go to the organisers for presenting Bach's famous Mass, giving opportunity for followers of the genre to experience a live performance.

Feedback from the audience

"I really thought the choir and orchestra were amazing last weekend."
- Lois Johnston (Soprano solist)

"Hi, I think David should be well pleased particularly with the choir. A few little issues with timing but you sounded rich and full for many of the choruses. Some excellent solos from some of the orchestra."
- a Friend

"It (the performance) was good enough for the audience to feel the monumental nature of the work."
- a Friend

"We attended the concert on Saturday.  Were unable to hear the Tenor and the Baritone. Second half the Baritone came across more strongly, but alas the Tenor was lost to us. We were not the only ones to comment on this. Four people in our row said the same and during the interval we heard the same. We were sitting front row upstairs."
- Jennifer Hopkinson

David Burchell responds to Jennifer Hopkinson's feedback:
"The hall is problematic for the lower solo voices, though I think they balance better downstairs. It seemed OK in rehearsal - but then the presence of audience and choir changes the acoustic! I am surprised that John was inaudible, though in the duet he had to take care not to overbalance Lois, so it was a tricky issue. The strings were already playing right down..."

"As a member of the choir for many years, it was a pleasure, and an enjoyable experience to be in the audience for the Bach concert, as I had been unable to attend an adequate number of rehearsals. There was a real buzz among the audience who did appreciate what a 'big sing' the work was, everyone I spoke to thought it was a very good performance, and so did I! I thought it was a confident performance, the diction was excellent, and I did enjoy watching everyone's animated faces, mostly eyes were out of music scores, and you did 'sing your hearts out' - bravo!
- Maggie Peake

"I was certainly interested in hearing the Bach B minor Mass again, but last night's performance rekindled an old enthusiasm for the piece. The soloists were good and the orchestra was very fine, but the Dunedin Choir carried the night.

"This won't come as a surprise to you, but David Burchell has had a remarkable influence on your group. The sound is more homogeneous now than it was five years ago, with groups of singers evident more by timbre than volume when their voices have to dominate the sound. That quality really showed in the final part of the Mass, and was a highlight for me. Another highlight was the beautiful blend between the vocal soloists and the instrumentalists who accompanied them. The long, winding, woodwind accompaniments -- which must be the very devil to play -- sounded wonderful."
- a Friend

"It was a fantastic concert and a splendid introduction to the B Minor Mass which I had not heard before."
- a Friend

"It was tremendous. The fugal writing was beautifully clear."
- a Friend

"Brilliant. We loved it."
- a Friend

"Thank you for a marvellous concert. Thoroughly enjoyed it."
- a Friend

"Everyone I have spoken to really enjoyed it. Several hadn't heard it before: "moving" and "beautiful". One commented on David's obvious attempts to slow us down at one point! For the hard of hearing the soprano soloist was hard to make out above the orchestra, was another comment."
- Tree Cocks

"Last Saturday evening, April 16th, the Dunedin audience was treated to one of the world’s most celebrated choral masterpieces, Mass in B minor by JS Bach. Elizabeth Bouman was quite right when she said in the ODT the following Monday that "all thanks and credit should go to the organizers for giving us such an opportunity".

"And what an opportunity it was! The opening Kyrie, with its heartrending plea for mercy, was so beautifully done that it brought tears to my eyes. The more outgoing movements such as the Gloria, Sanctus and the Osanna, stirred the emotions. The soloist instrumentals were exceptionally captivating and blended well with the vocal parts. The entire performance communicated the inspirational nature of this contemplative feast.

"This was truly an exhilarating performance and the audience, including myself, showed their appreciation with prolonged applause. That said it all!"
- Janice Royds

"I was in the audience and really enjoyed the performance. I was speaking with a couple of people around me who were just so grateful to be able to hear this work live. They really appreciated the effort that the choir had gone to to stage this performance. I found it really hard to sit there and not sing. You were all great."
- Heather Brown

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Thank you for your support!

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