Reviews: Bach Musica NZ’s Best of Bach

Sunday 11 December 2022 Auckland Town Hall

Bach Magnificat
Bach Jauchzet, frolocket from Christmas Oratorio

Bach Violin Concert in E
Bach Flute Concerto

Rita Paczian Conductor
Yanghe Yu Violin
Luca Manghi Flute
Elizabeth Mandeno Soprano
Wendy Dawn Thompson Alto
Lachlan Craig Tenor
James Harrison Baritone

Rainer W. Buhmann’s review

Bach Musica NZ’s last concert ‘Best of Bach’ saw Rita Paczian back at the helm and introduced two soloists:  the Bach Musica NZ concertmaster Yanghe Yu and the orchestra’s Principal Flautist, Luca Manghi.

An early concert highlight was Yanghe Yu’s performance of J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E-Major (BWV  1042).  He gave a truly masterful and captivating display of solo violin playing.  His soulful interpretation of the concert’s three movements was extremely sensitive and of great musical insight.

Displaying superb violin-technique, his irresistible and powerful rhythmic approach was astonishing, and his crisp semiquavers and sweeping arpeggios were captivating.  A special mention also goes to the delightful hesitancy in his sensitive approach to the final chord – thus, for a brief moment, committing the audience to a deafening silence and complete submission to his and the orchestra’s masterful music.

A fitting continuation was the first movement of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) ‘Jauchzet, Frohlocket!’  It allowed Bach Musica NZ’s chorus to make its initial powerful mark.  And this it did – with its usual musicality, energy, joyfulness, and attention to detail.

In the second Bach concerto, the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in e-minor (an assembly of BWV 1059 and BWV 35), Rita Paczian again conducted from the harpsichord.  Bach Musica NZ’s Principal-Flautist, Luca Manghi, was the soloist – a very gifted musician, with an assured, silvery sound.  He entranced the audience – at times literally showering it with glittering demi quavers – a musical feast!

Bach’s powerful ‘Magnificat in D’ (BWV 243) made up the second half of the concert. Bach Musica NZ’s chorus continued from where it left off earlier, now supported by four accomplished soloists. Elizabeth Mandeno’s soprano, augmented by the brief appearance of soprano and guest singer Sophia Young, was a delight.  Her voice is rich and soulful and in the higher ranges there appears to be no limit.  She displayed this especially in her solo aria ‘Quia respexit humilitatem’, accompanied superbly on Oboe d’amore by Alison Dunlop.

Mezzo soprano Wendy Dawn-Thompson demonstrated the rich timbre of her soulful voice, particularly in her aria ’Et exultavit spiritus meus’.

Lachlan Craig’s delightful and assured tenor voice and James Harrison’s authoritative bass-baritone in his aria ‘Quia fecit mihi magna’ gave this Magnificat performance a particular edge.

The chorus’ rendition of Bach’s Magnificat was an absolute gem!  As ‘Jauchzet, Frohlocket!’, the singers displayed their usual decisive attack, their expressive musicality, and a total mastery of the avalanche of semiquaver-runs, especially in the explosive ‘Fecit Potentiam’. The ensemble’s utterly liberating and fortissimo ‘Gloria Patri’ was an unequivocal concert highlight.

Bach Musica NZ’s orchestra under the leadership of Concertmaster Yanghe Yu fascinates time and time again with its high standard and professional competency. Whilst every orchestra member deserves individual focus, in this concert the crisp trumpets of Josh Rogan, Peter Reid and Hiro Kobayashi clearly stood out.

A huge vote of thanks goes to Rita Paczian for her sheer determination in overcoming all the 2022 impediments and for repeatedly bringing to her audience such phenomenal, musical delights of international standard!


William Dart’s Review

Bach Musica NZ’s Best of Bach gives reason to rejoice. It carried with it an underlying theme of rejoicing, climaxing in the composer’s mighty Magnificat.

Two concertos on Sunday night featured soloists from the orchestra, with concertmaster Yanghe Yu giving us Bach’s E major Violin Concerto while Rita Paczian conducted from the harpsichord.

This was a compact performance, nicely measured at Paczian’s usual crisp pace. Yu’s phrasing was sensitively drawn, the occasional rushed awkwardness more than compensated for by his restrained but effective ornamentation.

A particular delight came in the Adagio, in which both eye and ear could enjoy the interplay of cello and harpsichord.

Bach’s E minor Flute Concerto, patched together from earlier works, has never totally convinced me. However, on Sunday night, its irresistible momentum coupled with Luca Manghi’s effortless cascades of notes made a most convincing case for it.

Punctuating these two concertos, an exuberant opening chorus from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, primed us for what lay ahead after interval.

Bach’s Magnificat is one powerhouse of a piece, introduced with full ceremonial splendour. Its opening chorus was appropriately spectacular, with Josh Rogan’s trumpet riding atop the orchestral wave, and the sheer energy of the choristers bursting out into the hall; an energy that did not dissipate a whit in subsequent numbers.

The four soloists enjoyed Bach’s engrossing and challenging arias. Soprano Elizabeth Mandeno moved gracefully around Alison Dunlop’s oboe d’amore obbligato and, from her first aria, Wendy Dawn Thompson exerted her own authority, even if occasionally one wanted more naturalness in the musical flow.

Thompson’s duet with tenor Lachlan Craig was a highlight, harmonised against the sweet tones of Peter Watts’ chamber organ, as was Craig’s relaxed solo turn. Baritone James Harrison, in just a few minutes, provided models of both sculpted line and a confident low register.

The year 2023 looks to be a promising one for Bach Music NZ, with its December presentation of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio giving us the opportunity to hear its opening chorus in dramatic context.