William Dart, Bach B Minor Mass & Brandenburg 3

Sunday April 14, 2024, Auckland Town Hall

Bach Musica NZ – Gig Review: Bach Musica NZ @ Auckland Town Hall – 14/04/2024


The historic setting of Auckland Town Hall, with its long and celebrated history of live music, was the ideal location for Bach Musica NZ. This was the first of a program of performances taking place throughout the year and bringing to the stage some favourite classical music pieces. Three hundred years after it was composed, Bach’s appeal is broad and devoted.

His musical brilliance retains its emotional appeal and for me, it evokes sheer joy. I can remove the religious connotations from its intention, and I’m left with powerful, moving and transcendent music. I arrived in a bustling and frenetic scene as patrons busied themselves for the 5’o’clock show. I was sat a few feet away from the stage. I could almost feel the breeze from the instruments. There was nothing like coming face to face with an orchestra and the unfolding layers of the sound of the choir.

All clad in black Bach Musica NZ’s, violins, cellos and double bass players were close to the front of the stage. The orchestra sat poised while a few latecomers took their places. The lights stayed up. There was a moment of complete silence before the emergence and a round of applause for the dynamic entrance of the conductor, Rita Paczian. Vibrantly dressed in a silver sparkling jacket, there was a little magic to her enthusiastic performance. The opening notes to Brandenburg Concerto No 3 began. It brought the audience together into a concentration and composure demanded by the pace and thrill of this fabulous work. We can watch films at home, we can listen to music on speakers, but this sort of music’s complexities, elegance and effect are a million times intensified live, in a venue built for music.

Bach Musica NZ perform a variety of music, spanning the Baroque to contemporary classical music. They have an international repertoire. Tonight, it was all about Baroque – Bach is the classic of the classical, but if you think you’ve heard it before and not seen it live, then there’s every chance you are missing out on the genius of the music. Throughout the night characterful solo parts for singers and instrumentalists combined with blazing ensemble climaxes and caused raucous sustained applause. We all just really enjoyed it. Catch Bach Musica with the next instalment, Dvorak, and the idyll-evoking Vaughan Williams’, The Lark Ascending. As the dark evenings of Winter arrive this is sure to offer an opportunity for energy-lifting entertainment.

Photo Credit: Joe Photography
Bach Musica NZ Gallery

BACH MUSICA NZ, Sunday, April 14th, 2024 , Sunday, April 14th, 2024
2024 Concert No. 1

Music and Artistic Director:  Rita Paczian

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 ,   BWV 1048, J.S. Bach
Kyrie and Gloria,  b-minor Mass,  BWV 232


For their first 2024 concert Bach Musica NZ’s Music and Artistic Director, Rita Paczian, had chosen  an exclusive ‘Bach-only’  programme.

In 1721 Bach presented the Brandenburg Concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt,  a powerful Prussian principal at the time. He dedicated his work to him with an overt expression of humility and self-deprecation.

Today, the Brandenburg Concertos are considered some of Bach’s finest works. They are regarded as genuine testimonials of signalling the end of the baroque era. They are uppermost in the repertoire of all Bach-aficionados. It is perhaps against this background that expectations with regard to the Brandenburg 3  among concertgoers was somewhat casual.

Energy, competency of play by the orchestra and the encompassing quality of the orchestral sound, however, forced the audience into super-close attention right from the first bar.  Rita Paczian was expertly leading from the harpsichord. With her extended instrumental solo in the second movement, she inadvertently created a beautiful moment of calm in the proceedings. The performance’s solo violinists and violists were standing, persuasively and expertly led by concertmaster and first violin soloist, Yanghe Yu. Bach Musica NZ delivered a most captivating Brandenburg 3, and once again:  this was music-making par-excellence !

The concert’s second part, the B-Minor Mass’  Kyrie and Gloria, introduced Soprano Elizabeth Mandeno and Alto Christie Cook  –  this in their duet Christe Eleison.

Whilst the Christe eleision was secure in the sensitive rendition by established NZ-soprano, Elizabeth Mandeno – this in her accomplished fine and cultivated soprano-voice  –  UK-based alto, Christie Cook, provided an equally cultivated and resonant voice of warmth and poignancy. Both singers expertly navigated through some difficult passages and blended perfectly.

UK-based New Zealander Christie Cook was some time ago a student of Bach Musica NZ’s vocal coach, Gina Sanders. Back performing with Bach Musica NZ after almost 20 years, she shone particularly in her arias Laudamus te  –  and later in Qui sedes,  superbly accompanied  by Alison Dunlop’s solo oboe d’amore.

Elizabeth Mandeno’s and renowned NZ-tenor Iain Tetley’s duet Domine deus must be highlighted because of their rendition’s distinct fluidity and beauty. Also mentioned here must be Luca Manghi’s encompassing flute-accompaniment and the impeccable ‘pizzicato’ by celli and double base.

Bass-soloist James Harrison left his mark of artistic authority and style with his powerful aria Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Not only did he once again display the exemplary sonority of his ‘black’ bass, he also blended perfectly with an additional harpsichord-support by Rita Paczian and the convincingly crafted and cultivated sounds of the solo horn and bassoons.  This aria was one of the unquestionable concert-highlights.

To no lesser extent must be highlighted Bach Musica NZ’s orchestra and chorus under the energetic baton of Rita Paczian.

The orchestra again comprised excellent musicians of distinct musical prowess, competency and sensitivity.  The chorus easily transformed into the  ‘heart and soul’ of this powerful concert performance. Owing to the ‘minor-genre’ of Bach’s immortal              B-Minor Mass , the chorus was frequently called upon to distinctly portray the elements of  majesty  and gravitas.  The singers understood this perfectly, and competently came up to the task.  This was superbly executed in Gratias agimus tibi and in the Gloria’s final chorus  Cum sancto spiritu.

In this chorus Rita Paczian once again demonstrated her tremendous musicality and talent, where the total splendour of Bach’s fortissimo-music finds its overwhelming expression, where crisp trumpets and timpani are allowed to shine and where Bach Musica NZ’s artistry is impressively demonstrated by orchestra and chorus members – this with their complete immersion into Bach’s music,  and where the composer in his creative power reaches into the ‘beyond’ of what is considered humanly possible.

In their concert last Sunday, Bach Musica NZ once again became a carrier of this legacy.

                                                                        Rainer W. Buhmann