Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra: Bach Mass in B Minor

23 Oct

In his 1974 book The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas states that if we were ever to stream any kind of signal into space, a beacon to extra-terrestrial life form, he would pick Bach. However, he also concedes that this would be tantamount to “bragging”. Last Thursday’s Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performance, in conjunction with the University of Auckland Chamber Choir, of Bach’s Mass in B Minor was not quite bragging but it certainly came close.

Complete in 1749, a year before Bach’s death, there is something wonderfully mathematical about the B Minor mass – Bach divides and redivides the choir, orchestra and solo singers throughout the movements to form intricate musical patterns. At the same time, there is often so much going on that simply getting to the end of it can be daunting, but this proved to be a challenge the APO was able to rise to. There is a delicate balance between the various instruments, sung and otherwise and it was one that was handled expertly by Stephen Layton, a Gramophone-winning conductor whose incredibly animated and vigorous motions were a performance by themselves.

As for the solo singers, Sara Macliver, the Australian-borrowed soprano, had a clear, bell-like quality to her voice which resonated around the main chamber of Auckland Town Hall, and of all the soloists her voice is the one that sticks in my memory – although the alto, tenor and bass all had individual stand-out moments. However, the heart of the mass depends on the strength of the chorus and the University of Auckland Chamber Choir ensured that it came
together it spectacular style. A lovely evening.

By Tessa Clews

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