Thursday, March 28, 2024

Rousing performance of Bach classic

Bach's St John Passion

City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Town Hall
Sunday 24 March 2024

Presented on Palm Sunday, J.S. Bach’s St John Passion was a memorable performance in German by a fired-up City Choir Dunedin under the baton of musical director David Burchell, who also played the harpsichord. Despite Covid reducing the ranks, more than 60 choir members joined soloists Iain Tetley, Patrick Shanahan, James Harrison, Caroline Burchell, Maaike Christie-Beekman and Lila Crichton on stage at the Dunedin Town Hall. Guest organist was John van Buskirk.

First performed on Good Friday in 1724, the Passion is based on two chapters of the Gospel of John, the final days and death of Christ.

Tenor Tetley took the pivotal role of the Evangelist, his clear diction vital in tracing events from the Garden of Gethsemane through Christ’s crucifixion to his burial.

Enhanced by the choral sections, the narration is interspersed with individual musical dialogue, principally from two basses Christ (Shanahan) and Pilate (Harrison). With Tetley, the three demonstrated superb balance and control in the questioning of Jesus by Pilate.

Alto Christie-Beekman as the maid gave a powerful rendition of Von den Stricken ("To release me from the bondage of my sinning") and then soprano Burchell enchanted the audience with her clarity and command in the moving aria I’ll Walk in Your Footsteps, accompanied by Dunedin Symphony Orchestra flautists.

Crichton gained in confidence as the story developed, his rich tenor a joy to the audience.

Christie-Beekman’s aria It is Finished, sung from memory, was a highlight — lead cellist David Murray playing the accompaniment to perfection.

The story is a long one, yet neither choir nor soloists flagged, tackling soaring arias and complex choral fugues with aplomb.

St John Passion ends with the choir’s uplifting Rest Well Holy Bones of the Saviour. City of Dunedin choir gave it everything they had, a fitting end to one of its best-ever performances.

It did Bach proud, unlike the two people in the audience whose cellphones rang during the concert.

Review by Gillian Vine, The Star, 28 March 2024

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