Showing posts with label Bach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bach. Show all posts

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

Monday, March 25, 2024

Passion still enthralling after 300 years

Bach's St John Passion

City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Town Hall
Sunday 24 March 2024

Bach wrote the St John Passion in 1724, and for 300 years audiences have been enthralled by the enormity and poignancy of this work. Yesterday afternoon, an average-sized Dunedin audience had the thrill of hearing this work performed by City Choir Dunedin and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra conducted confidently by David Burchell.

From the opening chorus it was obvious that the choir was in fine form. Entries were secure, tone was well-supported and voice parts were well-balanced. This continued throughout; the choir alternating between reflective chorales, choruses, and crowd interjections which produced some electrifying moments. However, the German diction needed greater clarity.

The Evangelist, Iain Tetley, bears the responsibility of delivering the story. Tetley did this admirably varying tone colour and tempo to the mood.

In the role of Christ, Patrick Shanahan has the appropriate vocal timbre and sang with good resonance. However, his lack of eye contact and dramatic body language tended to diminish the interpretation of this role.

The four soloists were well matched.

Caroline Burchell’s clear soprano voice filled the auditorium well and she sang with a good understanding of baroque style.

Maaike Christie-Beekman’s first aria was somewhat overwhelmed by the obbligato instruments, but her second aria Es ist Vollbracht was passionately sung from memory. This was a real highlight.

Lila Crichton has a warm timbre to his voice matching the arias well.

Bass, James Harrison, who sang the role of Pilate, as well as the bass arias, was dramatic, convincing and powerful.

The support of the orchestra was unwavering, with the obbligato outstanding. David Murray (cello) and John van Buskirk (organ) accompanied the recitatives fluently, with Burchell conducting arias from the harpsichord.

All in all, a moving performance.

Review by Judy Bellingham, Otago Daily Times 25 March 2024

Monday, December 7, 2020

Outstanding programme to celebrate Christmas

Photo by Ian Thomson

Rejoice! Music for Christmas
Saturday 28 November 2020, Dunedin Town Hall

Last Saturday evening City Choir Dunedin, supported by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra presented an outstanding programme to celebrate the Christmas season.

The concert opened with Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit. The mass, which featured soloists Lois Johnston (soprano), Caroline Burchell (soprano), Claire Barton (alto), Andrew Grenon (tenor), and James Harrison (bass), offered an opportunity for the choir to display their skill at performing challenging, less well known repertoire. The work features beautiful and interesting harmonic moments, which the choir handled admirably, although a degree of uncertainty or perhaps lack of commitment (in comparison to that displayed later in the programme) meant that the magic was at times lost, leaving the piece to feel a little long.

In Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols the skills of the upper voices of the choir were showcased, supported by the phenomenal talent of Christchurch-based harpist Helen Webby. Featuring soprano soloists Burchell and Johnston, this performance had some extraordinary moments. Johnston’s performance in That YongĂ« Child was so hauntingly beautiful, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience, while Burchell’s rendition of Balulalow, supported by the women’s chorus, was truly exquisite. Webby, accompanying the choir and soloists throughout, plays with fantastic skill and musicality, with her Interlude being one of my personal favourite moments of the concert. This challenging work displayed the choir’s skill in handling complex polyphony, although at times the diction left a bit to be desired. On the whole, however, it was a great performance of a Christmas classic.

Bach’s Magnificat brought with it a significant step up in the choir’s energy level. Conducted by David Burchell from the harpsichord, this piece brought the choir, orchestra, and all five soloists back together for the second half of the concert. This monumental work showed the full range of the choir’s strengths, in which they gave great dedication and spirit to the music throughout. All five soloists were absolutely thrilling, with Claire Barton in particular giving a standout performance. A fantastic evening! It sounds like City Choir has a great programme lined up for 2021, so keep an eye out for future concerts!

Review by Ihlara McIndoe for The Wave, 7 December 2020.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bach performance 'fantastic'

St Matthew Passion - An Epic Musical Creation
Sunday 31 March, Dunedin Town Hall

Brenda Harwood, The Star, Thursday 4 April 2019

Monday, April 1, 2019

Massive musical undertaking delights

St Matthew Passion - An Epic Musical Creation
Sunday 31 March, Dunedin Town Hall

St Matthew Passion, by JS Bach, is a deeply moving oratorio requiring dramatic performances from all. Yesterday's performance in Dunedin Town Hall, conducted by David Burchell, showcased the choral majesty of Bach's music in a marathon of energy and passion.

This is not an easy work, demanding almost three hours' interpretation of emotional musical intensity, expressed in German, a foreign language to most of the performers.

The text outlines Christ's final days from various perspectives, with a narrator (Evangelist - Iain Tetley), Jesus (Scott Bezett) and other principal soloists - Lois Johnston (soprano), Claire Barton (contralto), Andrew Grenon (tenor) and Malcolm Leitch (bass) taking on different roles and characters to advance the storyline between full choral anthems from combined choirs - City Choir Dunedin, Christchurch City Choir, and Forte (Fairfield School) who added an extra timbre to harmonic textures of the big anthems in Part 1.

Dunedin Symphony Orchestra provided a 30-piece baroque orchestra, including three keyboard continuo performers, two oboes d'amore adding impressive gilding to some of the vocal solos, and a viola da gamba.

The overall performance was a credit to all participating. However, with the 160-voice choir, musical articulation and clarity of German was sometimes needy, but their balance, intonation, quality of tone and expression was excellent.

Tetley possesses a crisp clear tenor, with counter-tenor colouring, which is ideal for ``story-telling''.

Bezett, at age 21, was outstanding in his interpretation of the role of Jesus. His voice carried well, reflecting sound technique and hours of preparation.

Johnston and Barton often sing together, and the fine balance for their duet was a highlight.

Enthusiastic prolonged applause and endless comments of approval rewarded the performance.

Review in the ODT, 1 April 2019, by Elizabeth Bouman

Letters to the Editor of the Otago Daily Times

Bravo, maestros
A big thank-you to City Choir Dunedin, the six soloists and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, and of course the conductor David Burchell for the magnificent performance of the St Matthew Passion.
The dramatic music stirred the emotions, and I had tears in my eyes when the evangelist raises his voice when he imitates the crowing of the rooster.

But this is not an opera but church music which can inspire the listener to deep contemplation. So, please audience, do not applaud at the end of the performance. Bouquets of flowers to the conductor and soloists seem out of place, as this is not a concert.

Heinke Sommer-Matheson, Maori Hill, 3 April 2019

Marvellous music
I write to express deep appreciation of the performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion at Dunedin Town Hall on Sunday, 31 March. Grateful thanks are due to the combined choirs, the orchestra and soloists for heartfelt and disciplined music making.

That five cathedral organists were present says much for the respect we all give to David Burchell, conductor, Tessa Petersen, concertmaster, and all involved. The outstanding playing of Polly Sussex, viola da gamba, carried throughout the magnificent town hall and added authenticity.

Bach gives us much to contemplate in this Passiontide season, as for example when his music adorns the text: "As long as life lasts, we have a thousand thanks for Christ's sufferings, for having valued so highly the salvation of our souls." And out of suffering will soon come the joy and miracle of Easter Day!

Dr Raymond White, Invercargill, 8 April 2019

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bach’s genius revealed in Christmas choral work

Some of the sopranos in the 2016 Christmas Oratorio performance. Photo credit Ian Thomson.
Christmas Oratorio
Friday 16 December 2016, Dunedin Town Hall

From start to finish – right through the six cantatas which comprise Bach’s Christmas Oratorio – the performance of this late-Baroque masterpiece by City Choir Dunedin and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra in Dunedin Town Hall on 16 December 2016 brought home to an appreciative audience the composer’s inspired inventiveness in all its breadth and depth.

The jubilant opening chorus of Cantata 1 is as taxing as it is brilliant, but both choir and orchestra proved fully equal to the challenge – with trumpets and timpani adding zest to woodwind and strings – and were no less incisive in the similarly brilliant final chorus of Cantata 6. Great stamina and assured technique are needed to cope with the relentless demands of Bach’s music, and conductor David Burchell deserves much credit for getting the very best out of his choral and orchestral forces, and for keeping the music’s unflagging momentum going throughout.

As the music’s story progressed from Christmas Day to Epiphany, the vocal soloists were also continually tested and never found wanting. Tenor Iain Tetley, as narrator of the story itself, led the way, first for alto Claire Barton, then for bass Robert Tucker, and finally for soprano Lois Johnston, and in their arias all four commented – sometimes separately, sometimes jointly – on the implications of Jesus’ miraculous birth and its sequels. Highlights were Barton’s meditative “Lock, my heart, this blessed wonder” in Cantata 3 with Tessa Petersen’s superb violin solo, Johnston’s optimistic “My Saviour, does thy name instil” (ably echoed by Caroline Burchell) in Cantata 4 with Alison Dunlop’s lovely oboe solo, Tetley’s sprightly “I will live only to glorify thee” in Cantata 4 with its intricate string accompaniment, and Tucker’s sonorous “Great Lord and mighty King” in Cantata 1 with its rich scoring for trumpet, flute and strings.

In these and many other cases the orchestra’s stylish and sensitive contributions were crucial in delineating the music’s changing moods. But this review must give a parting accolade to the choir. Superhuman music like Bach’s demands something more than mere competence from voices and instruments, and the choir’s tonal and rhythmic precision in delivering the composer’s message – both in the complex counterpoint of choruses like “Glory be to God” in Cantata 2 and in the plainer chord-based style of chorales like “Be joyful, meanwhile” in Cantata 3 – was obviously the result of constant practice and careful attention to detail. Congratulations!

J. Donald Cullington

About the reviewer:
A native of northern England, J. Donald Cullington graduated in Classics at Cambridge before qualifying as a musician (with a BMus at Durham, a DMus at Edinburgh, etc.). His musical career - as pianist, organist, choirtrainer and teacher - spans five decades, and has included four years (1975-78) as Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral in Dunedin, and twenty-eight years in Northern Ireland as initiator, developer and (for many years) Head of the Music Department at the University of Ulster.

Donald Cullington also reviewed the 2008 performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

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!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Joyous prelude to Christmas

Review by Donald Cullington for the ODT:

For its pre-Christmas concert in the Town Hall on Saturday, the City of Dunedin Choir chose J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio - six cantatas written in 1734 for different Christmastide services. It proved an excellent choice, bringing out the best in all those involved.

Bach himself must take first place in the credits. Working within narrow confines — the religious and artistic culture of the Germany of his day - he nevertheless wrote church music of such variety, inventiveness and imagination that it can still astonish and inspire, as the reactions of the large and appreciative Dunedin audience showed.

But meeting Bach's demands is not easy, for he requires virtuoso technique and stamina from both instruments and voices.

The four principal soloists here, however, formed a strong team, impressive in solos and ensembles alike: Nicola Edgecombe a brightly-shining soprano, Kate Spence a warmtoned alto, John Murray a clear and confident tenor, and Chris Bruerton a sensitive and wellmodulated bass. The choir sang with accuracy and assurance throughout, both in the dancelike choruses and in the more reflective chorales, the outnumbered tenors on the whole coping manfully with their soaring lines, the sopranos excelling in their two chorales with bass soloist, and one, Catherine Daly, beautifully echoing the soloist in one item.

The Southern Sinfonia gave splendid and unflagging support, always setting the pace with verve and precision. Special mention must be made of Sydney Manowitz's violin solos and his duet with Sandra Crawshaw, Nicholas Cornish's incredible staying power on the oboe, the stylish continuoplaying of David Murray (cello) and John van Buskirk (chamber organ), and the brilliance of trumpets and horns.

Overseeing and masterfully uniting these forces was David Burchell, who doubled as harpsichordist and conductor. He should feel proud of his achievement, for if the necessary cuts in this long work may have caused some un-Bach-like harmonic jolts, and if the omission of the pastoral sinfonia from Cantata 2 caused particular distress, I am sure that St Cecilia, whose special day November 22 also was, smiled down on his devoted attention to one of her most famous sons.

About the reviewer:
A native of northern England, Donald Cullington graduated in Classics at Cambridge before qualifying as a musician (with a BMus at Durham, a DMus at Edinburgh, etc.). His musical career - as pianist, organist, choirtrainer and teacher - spans four decades so far, and has included four years (1975-78) as Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral in Dunedin, and twenty-eight years in Northern Ireland as initiator, developer and (for many years) Head of the Music Department at the University of Ulster.

Publication: Otago Daily Times; Date: Nov 24, 2008; Page Number: 4