Concert Review: Bach Magnificat, The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra And Choir



Bach Magnificat

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir

City Recital Hall, Sydney

February 21st 2014. 

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra celebrating its 25th anniversary this year opened the 2014 season with a concert centred around the music of J S Bach. The programme reached back into history, performing two works which represent the stylistic origins of this ensemble. Looking to the future, these were followed by the world premiere of Prelude and Cube  a Bach inspired work commissioned for the occasion from Elena Kats-Chernin.

There’s nothing like a celebration to rouse the spirits. The full forces of choir and orchestra opened with an ecstatic performance of the  Magnificat in E flat major BWV243a, the first version he composed in 1723. Bach’s choice of key was curious, creating a challenge for the instruments, especially the trumpets. (The more commonly performed D major version, BWV 243 was transposed by Bach in 1733). The other distinguishing feature of BWV 243a is that it has 4 interpolations relating to the birth of Christ, because it was written for Vespers on Christmas Day in 1723 and so, familiar chorale tunes like Von Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, emerge between the customary choruses and arias of the Magnificat.

As a song of praise, Bach’s writing in his Magnificat is slightly breathless, even frenzied. The 5 part choir conveyed laudatory brilliance (the opening and closing choruses), the pondering rhythms (Omnes generationes) and well-defined polyphony (Sicut locutus est); the antiphonal effects highlighted by the arrangement of altos and counter-tenors flanked by the two soprano sections. The entire ensemble maintained its integrity throughout the brisk tempi and rapid musical figures.

Soprano Jane Sheldon sang both soprano arias, usually divided between first and second soprano soloists. She seemed more at ease in the aria Quia respexit humilitatem, written for first soprano; whilst Et exsultavit spiritus meus written for second soprano seemed below her tessitura. Counter-tenor Maximilian Reibl was impressive, giving a gracefully nuanced and pure toned rendition of Esurientes implevit boni; his duet with tenor Richard Butler, Et Misericordiae was a sensitive collaboration.

The orchestra was exceptional in an inspired performance of JS Bach’s Suite No 4 in D major, BWV 1069, the glorious imperfections of the period instruments recreating what must have been the sound of the ensemble in Bach’s day.

Finally, the gift of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Prelude and Cube, a work in two parts for soprano, saxophone, choir and orchestra celebrating the Baroque – old and new. This was a breathtaking work at first hearing. Minimalist bass lines were overlaid with rich columns of chords, rhapsodic melodies and syncopated rhythms. The saxophone and voice soared over the landscape; the choir sang a text based on a Lutheran hymn and the German version of the Magnificat. The Prelude conveyed gravitas and  sense of triumph; the Cube looked to the future with a sense of fun and anticipation of continuing vibrant life. It is well worth hearing again. Hopefully it will be performed regularly and receive a wider audience.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performs Bach Magnificat at the City Recital Hall on Wednesday February 26th and Friday February 28th at 7 pm and on Saturday March 1st at 2 pm and 7pm.


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