World-class performance marks ensemble’s anniversary

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Andrew Koll conducts “Agnus Dei Cantatas”. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Christe, du Lamm Gottes” by JS Bach. Canberra Bach Ensemble. At St Christopher’s Cathedral, Manuka. March 24. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

MARKING the 20th anniversary of the first performance of the Canberra Bach Ensemble, which took place in the same Cathedral, St Christopher’s in Manuka, this performance showed just how far the ensemble has come.

It began with “Christe, du Lamm Gottes”, (“Christ, Lamb of God”) for the choir only, then there was a short organ prelude BWV 619, played by James Porteous who also sang in the choir. This was Bach’s first arrangement of “Christ, Lamb of God” and let the large audience know they were in for a grand concert.

Moving into “Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe”, BWV 22, almost all performers took the stage. They were Greta Claringbould, soprano; Maartje Sevenster, alto; Robert Macfarlane, tenor; Andrew Fysh, bass; Leanne Bear, violinist and leader of the orchestra under Andrew Koll artistic director and conductor. Plus the 26 voices of the choir and specialist individual players.

Opening with an arioso for tenor, bass, chorus and orchestra, the oboe played by Aaron Reichelt rode through the cantata with a wave of baroque beauty. This arrangement showed Bach’s brilliance for a balanced composition. The orchestra, choir, and soloists were at full penetrating volume in this piece.

The profound cantata “Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn”, BWV 23 has at its core the German Agnus Dei of the Lutheran mass. It began with two oboes d’amore, Reichelt and Jane Downer with soprano and alto. The pairing of Claringbould and Sevenster, who are part of Adhoc Baroque, with the oboes was a delight and a surreal experience as the voices interacted with one another. The whole piece was a solemn and powerful work.

Physical gestures that lead to directed music from a conductor take more than just arm movements. Having a keen eye and ear along with meticulous timing and a deep knowledge of music is an art form. Koll as a conductor has all these things, and he never fails to bring out the best of his players.

There is little to compare to the depth of sound coming from an ensemble like this in full flight, and this one is world class. This shows in the recent invitation CBE received to the Leipzig Bach Festival in 2020. It is the only group from Australia to be involved.

Canberra Bach Ensemble performs at St Christopher’s. Photo: Peter Hislop

“Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott”, BWV 127 is a multi-dimensional and highly textured work. On occasion, the volume lifted the roof. The two recorders played by Robyn Mellor and Olivia Gossip, who both sang in the choir, had an abundance of notes to get through, and they did it in their usual professional style. The five movements of this cantata had it all for this reviewer that was until the final work.

Bach’s “Mass in F Major” BWV 233 hit everyone with a wave of glorious music in the opening Kyrie. The flourishes on the horns, played by Simon Wolnizer and Gergely Mályusz, added bright colours throughout and showed how Bach as a composer was not afraid to try things. His capacity to sound fresh and innovative still makes people sit up and take notice.

The final part with the choir, soloists and orchestra was music and performance at its best. The Canberra Bach Ensemble capped off a glorious concert with a stirring and powerful recital of the mass that sees them rightly on the world stage.

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