Bach choir breathes life into theme of commemorating the dead

MUSIC
IN MEMORIAM ★★★
Melbourne Bach Choir
Melbourne Recital Centre, September 8

While Mozart’s Requiem served as the focus of this latest MBC exercise, the organisation’s conductor/director Rick Prakhoff fleshed out Saturday night with four disparate works that had connections, some tenuous, with the theme of commemorating the dead. Two were a tad high-flown: the 13-year-old Mozart’s Passion song, Kommet her, ihr frechen Sunder delivered with steely directness by soprano Jacqueline Porter; and the Bach cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen for which the choir contributed a dead slow version of the coping-stone chorus, and three able soloists – mezzo Sally-Anne Russell, tenor Andrew Goodwin, baritone Andrew Jones – exercised a welcome vivacity and clarity of line.

The real thing emerged in Stravinsky’s In memoriam Dylan Thomas, Goodwin giving a vehement reading of the composer’s angular treatment of Do not go gentle, while the MBC Orchestra’s strings were untroubled by Arvo Part’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, an exercise in playing a descending A natural minor scale, here accomplished without extraneous sentiment.

As for the great torso of Mozart’s final Mass, Prakhoff’s approach followed familiar lines with a massive choral sound that set comprehensibility at a premium; all the notes were there, reinforced by a vehement trombone trio, but the texts were blurred in delivery.

Despite the hefty orchestral bass-line – trombones, basset horns, bassoons – concertmaster Roy Theaker’s strings were generally agile enough. But again, the four vocal soloists carried all before them with wrenchingly ardent work in the Tuba mirum and Recordare pages and a Benedictus that combined verve with impeccable grace.

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