‘Energetic’ concert ends 10 days of superb music

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“Testament”… warm congratulations are due to the board and staff of Pro Musica… for an innovative 10 days or so of superb music-making. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / CIMF, Concert 23 – “Testament”The Fitters’ Workshop, May 12. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE. 

FOR the concluding concert in the 25th Canberra International Music Festival, it was all Bach, opening with his revised setting of the final piece from the “Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes”. Although intended for organ, the new version’s contrapuntal structure, according to the program notes, “easily allowed vocal performances”.

With Jonathan Lee at the organ, Roland Peelman conducted the Luminesence Chamber Singers in a fine account of the chorale setting “Before your throne I now appear”, which the blind and stroke-affected Bach dictated to his son-in-law in the last month of his life. There was superb balance across the choir, and the straight tone, unbridled by vibrato, gave the piece authenticity to the period. It was easy to hear the contrapuntal tune pass through the choir’s sections. Some of the lowest notes in the bass end proved somewhat a challenge for the basses but it did not detract from the performance.

Then it was Contrapunctus XIX from “Art of Fugue”, performed by vocal group Clarion, as well as members of Bach Akademie Australia, “sans conductor”. To emphasise the entries and interaction of the melody, the singers were placed near the instruments that were accompanying their parts. This proved very effective as the melody moved through the group, almost like a round.

Ending the first half was the first aria from the Cantata BWV 202 “The Wedding Cantata” and “Dissipate, you troublesome shadows” (referring to the transition from winter to spring). The Bach Akademie, conducted from the organ by Korneel Bernolet, accompanied soprano Amy Moore in duet with Emma Black, playing her simply gorgeous baroque oboe. The warmth of its tone beautifully complementing Black’s lovely voice.

The second half was given over to the Cantata BWV 147, “Heart and mouth and deed and life”, the title of its opening chorus. The Cantata features the famous chorale “Well for me that I have Jesus”, closing part one, and the second verse, “Jesus remains my joy”, closing part two. It’s more commonly known as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, the title of its piano transcription by Myra Hess in 1926.

Bernolet again was at the organ to conduct Luminescence and Bach Akademie, augmented by other instruments, most notably a baroque trumpet (no valves), played superbly by Richard Fomison.

The whole ensemble gave the opening chorus and the two closing chorales excellent performances, with beautiful balance and tone, giving life and energy to Bach’s marvellous harmonies.

In between there were seven recitatives or arias. There were three standout soloists.

Soprano Chloe Lankshear, in “Prepare, Jesus, even now the path for Yourself”, had her voice soaring through the Fitters’ Workshop with superb clarity in a lovely duet performance with Bach Akademie director Madeleine Easton, playing the violin.

Two solos by tenor Andrew Goodwin showed off his powerful, clear voice, with beautiful intonations. Bass David Greco thundered assuredly in “I will sing of Jesus’ wonders and bring my lip’s offering to Him”.

BWV 147 was a fitting conclusion to this year’s festival and warm congratulations are due to the board and staff of Pro Musica, and especially the Festival’s artistic director Roland Peelman, for an innovative 10 days or so of superb music-making.

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