BWW REVIEW: Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Provides A Beautiful Pause To Reconnect With The Meaning Of Easter With Bach's Reflective ST MATTHEW PASSION

Saturday 15th April 2017, 1pm, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

Presented by Sydney Philharmona Choirs, Johann Sebastian Bach's ST MATTHEW PASSION is a perfect escape from the chaos of commercialism to reconnect with the real reason for the Easter holiday. Combining the force of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra with 6 wonderful soloists, Conductor Brett Weymark draws out an expressive and emotional expression of the Baroque work.

The work is presented with two adult choirs and two orchestras, delineated by the positioning of Choir 1 in the platform box to left of the stage and Choir 2 located towards right of the traditional choir stalls with the corresponding orchestra on stage in front of their respective choir. The adult choirs are a combination of the Sydney Philharmonia Choir's Symphony Chorus, Chamber Singers and VOX, the company's young adult ensemble. The first half of the work is complemented by the addition of the Soprano in Ripieno Student choir of the NSW Public Schools Senior Singers, located in the platform box to the right of the stage. The division of the orchestra and choirs allows for better sound balance with the soloists and enables Weymark to coax out a more textured interpretation that has greater contrast in quiet moments and bold powerful statements as well as giving the sound directional focus rather than consistent full wash a single central orchestra would provide.

Spread across the breadth of the stage, the soloists have been positioned with a degree of dramatic blocking with Baritone Robert Macfarlane presenting the Evangelist's narration maintaining an oversight from stage right, in front of the first orchestra. Tenor Christopher Richardson as Jesus retains a position somewhat upstage of the Evangelist's location, between the two orchestras. The four soloists that present the Arias along with the roles of Judas, Peter, High Priest, Servants, Witnesses, Pilate and his Wife wait at stage Left and present their solos either from this area or joining the Evangelist and Jesus at Stage Right.

This performance, that was unfortunately only a one show engagement, presents a beautifully textured expression of the Passion of Christ. Macfarlane presents a delightfully textured storytelling in the Evangelist's narration that captures both a candid observation as well as suspense and intrigue in his phrasing and intonation whilst still producing a beautiful musicality. Richardson gives Jesus a calmness and restraint with a contrasting gravitas when he defends the woman who anoints him in Bethany and an earnestness when he wakens his disciples at the Mount of Olives prior to his arrest.

Soprano Celeste Lazarenko presents the Aria following Judas' Betrayal with a clear, ominous cautionary tone that is filled with texture and wonderful dynamics, working well with the lightness of the orchestra that underpins the piece. Her expression of the Soprano's aria at the end of The Last Supper is filled with adoration and devotion. Mezzo Soprano Sally-Anne Russell presents the Alto Recitative and Aria following the Annointing in Bethany with a measured earnestness and her crescendos in the Aria at the beginning of Part Two are pure and controlled.

Tenor Jonathan Abernethy captures the weighty darkness of the Recitative and Aria in Jesus' Despair on the Mount of Olives. His work in the Interrogation Before The Chief Priests has a wonderful purity and control whilst still expressing the seriousness and gravity of the situation, all the while ensuring a clarity of the text and evoking a tenderness in the Aria. Baritone David Greco presents the Bass work and the majority of the minor characters. He presents an intense weight and seriousness to his expression of Judas and his portrayal of the High Priest delves into a spoken song in its depths.

This was a beautiful work and hopefully Sydney Philharmonia Choirs will restage it so that more audiences can enjoy the talents of the Australian performers (We'll claim Abernethy as we do many other New Zealanders). If Sydney Philharmonia do present this again, do not miss it. This presentation also demonstrates Music Director and conductor Brett Weymark's understanding of ensuring the work is presented with texture to capture the light and shade of the emotion and energy so other concerts in their programme would also be worth seeing for anyone that appreciates beautiful music and educated and informed expression.

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs

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