Melbourne Bach Choir: J. S. Bach – St Matthew Ardour

The Elisabeth Murdoch Corridor on the Melbourne Recital Centre may not be a consecrated spiritual house, however the Melbourne Bach Choir’s transferring efficiency of J. S. Bach’s St Matthew Ardour on Good Friday made it really feel like one.

After COVID restrictions required having to cancel a efficiency of Bach’s St John Ardour (twice!), conductor Rick Prakhoff selected the work that not solely led to the formation of the Melbourne Bach Choir in 2006, however was additionally one which he and plenty of others think about to be “the only best sacred work within the Western canon”.

Previous to the efficiency correct, Prakhoff learn the accustomed acknowledgement Aboriginal lands and other people, after which spoke about how the pandemic continued to have an effect on this efficiency. The most important change involved the important thing position of the Evangelist. When Andrew Goodwin first sang this position in Melbourne he induced a sensation; he appeared a born Evangelist. Disappointing as his withdrawal was for all involved, Robert Macfarlane, one other excellent tenor with expertise within the position, was capable of fill the breach successfully at brief discover. Macfarlane’s voice is certainly one of most pleasing heat, steadiness and sweetness. He did, nevertheless, often resort to a half-voiced thread of sound to barter a number of the extra taxing, larger notes. Barely wanting on the rating in his palms Macfarlane sang with nearly operatic conviction, addressing the viewers straight at instances; folks within the entrance stalls could effectively have been a bit of greatly surprised when he informed them “The person I shall kiss, that’s him, seize him!” on the finish of the dramatic betrayal narrative. Story-telling was heightened on this riveting efficiency.

Bach offers the refrain loads of dramatic moments too as they assume numerous personas, particularly as a bloodthirsty mob eager on inflicting ache, and selecting “Barabbam!” fairly than Jesus for launch. The Choir was in full-bodied cry for “Laß ihn kreuzigen!” (Let him be crucified) – such a dramatic distinction to the next Chorale “Wie wunderbalich ist doch diese Strafe!” (How superb is that this punishment!). On this and all of the mixed choir work, choristers sang with ample resonant tone. As with so many novice choirs, feminine voices, particularly sopranos, tended to dominate, however the thirty males may normally be heard clearly, particularly in fugal sections. Three of the eight members of the Ripieno Choir have been additionally unable to carry out due to COVID restrictions, however the remaining 5, singing from the balcony near the stage, did a tremendous job certainly. They could possibly be heard clearly throughout the excellent choruses that bookend the work, bringing what Leonard Bernstein referred to as “redemptive readability” because the regular choral melody shone via the surging double refrain plus full orchestra accompaniment. A number of the main musical and dramatic curiosity derives from having two separate choruses and orchestras. Inserting choristers aspect by aspect with none separation may need decreased a number of the antiphonal results, however enhanced the sumptuous unified mix of the chorales. The selection of decreasing the inexperienced acoustic blinds additionally had its execs and cons. On the one hand it decreased the advantages of additional resonance for the soloists and choir – probably accounting for the tentative entry of the refrain 1 sopranos within the opening refrain – nevertheless it did allow larger readability. From Row T within the Stalls, the element that Prakhoff and performers took pains to convey was distinctly audible.

A line-up of wonderful, skilled soloists produced some outstanding performances. It might be troublesome to discover a extra appropriate bass-baritone for the position of Jesus than Adrian Tamburini. He possesses a wealthy, darkish voice that encompasses a uncommon diploma of pathos in its timbre – an embracing high quality resonant with sorrow and keenness. Delicate enjoying from Orchestra 1, led by Madeleine Easton, offered a luminous halo impact to accompany him.

Jacqueline Porter appears to be the go-to soprano in Melbourne for the time being, and justly so. Her “Aus, Liebe” (Aus Liebe), with its lengthy, pianissimo entry was nothing in need of transcendent. Simply because the main violinists had stood for a few vital arias, so the 2 oboes and first flute of Orchestra 1 stood for the Recitative that preceded this Aria. Eliza Shephard’s flute enjoying was immaculate all through, however the flute obbligato in opposition to the 2 sobbing oboes and the floating purity of Porter’s soprano created an intensely transferring expertise. Sally-Anne Russell displayed comparable expressive sensitivity and admirable management, spinning out lengthy phrases with none intrusive vibrato. Utilizing a Baroque bow, Madeleine Easton performed a silver-toned violin obbligato, for the ravishing alto aria “Erbarme dich” (Have mercy) with dexterity and style. Russell’s singing of this and the aria with refrain 2 “Sehet, Jesus hat die hand … ausgespannt” (See Jesus has stretched out his hand”) have been amongst notable highlights – poised, flowing and at all times conscious of the emotional panorama of the textual content and music.

As Judas, Pilate and soloist for the bass recitatives and arias, Jeremy Kleeman was excellent. His bass-baritone was sturdy and assertive within the two roles, and versatile, even and unforced within the arias, significantly “Gebt mir meinen Jesu wieder “ (Give me again my Jesus) with Meg Cohen enjoying a sublime violin obbligato. The St Matthew Ardour is stuffed with outstanding invention, not the least being the instrumentation for the bass aria “Komm süßes Kreuz” (Come candy Cross) and the recitative that precedes it. The mix of Reidun Turner’s viola da gamba and two delicate flutes for the recitative, adopted by the gamba and continuo devices for the aria, was immensely satisfying. Kleeman’s glorious breath management and technical ease contributed to a robust sense of cohesion. He appeared to sing largely from reminiscence, and even when he wasn’t singing, appeared absolutely engaged with the narrative and music. He seemed as if he would have gladly joined the choir within the chorales.

Henry Choo used his ringing tenor to good impact within the demanding tenor arias and James Emerson made a creditable contribution as Peter, Excessive Priest and a few minor characters.

In his opening remarks, Rick Prakhoff devoted this efficiency of the St Matthew Ardour to the folks of Ukraine. His father had escaped from Kiev as a toddler in 1938, so the present dreadful occasions have nice private significance to him, as does the work itself. The truth that Prakhoff, the Melbourne Bach Choir and the excellent Melbourne Bach Orchestra may current such an uplifting studying of this magnificent rating at the moment is a trigger for celebration.

Picture courtesy Melbourne Bach Choir.


Heather Leviston reviewed the efficiency of J. S. Bach’s St Matthew Ardour, offered by the Melbourne Bach Choir on the Melbourne Recital Centre on Good Friday, April 15, 2022.


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