A performance of energy and zest

A performance of energy and zest J S Bach


Fr Michael Collins


Among the greatest of J.S. Bach’s choral works stands out the Christmas Oratorio, a collection of six individual cantatas. Each was composed for a particular day of the Christmas season, concluding with the Feast of the Epiphany.

Bach used a libretto by Christian Friedrich Henrici, known by his nickname Picander, who took extracts of the Gospels and wrote poems which were set as arias by Bach.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, was the venue for a rare performance of the whole work performed over two nights on January 6-7.

The RTÉ Philharmonic Choir was in top form under the direction of the guest chorus master, Mark Hindley.

I spoke with some members of the choir after the performance and they were delighted with their new vocal coach, who had abandoned a career in medicine for music.

Mark auditioned the members and listened to the timbre of their voices. He then placed singers whose voices matched each other more closely. That led to a more homogenous sound and the result was immediately apparent.

The soloists were superlative. Mark Padmore, who won the Grammophone Vocal Solo Award in 2010, sang the part of the Evangelist and tenor arias. His interpretation of Frohe Hirten, with its devilish runs on the word Geht, was breathtaking.

Oxford educated Peter Harvey, bass, sings regularly with Harry Christopher’s The Sixteen and works regularly with John Elliot Gardiner and gave a splendid account of Grosser Herr.

Kerry- born Paula Murrihy is a relatively new voice on the scene and is carving out a great career. Julia Doyle, a native of Lancaster, sang with great intensity and conveyed the sense of the words and the music perfectly.

The orchestra was drawn from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. Baroque music figures less in their programmes than music from the Romantic and modern period.

They responded sensitively, albeit on modern instruments, to the demands of the conductor.

The energy and zest of this performance is owed largely to the guest conductor, Matthew Halls. A former artistic director of the King’s Consort, Matthew is star in full glow. A graduate of Oxford University, he subsequently taught there for five years.

In 2009, he founded the highly respected Retrospect Ensemble which already has an annual series at the Wigmore Hall and also has several releases with Linn Records.

He has been invited to be artistic director for the Oregon Bach Festival where he replaces Helmut Rilling. He recently conducted operas at the Handel Festival in Hall; he is also tutor for the European Union Baroque and also teaches summer courses at the Jerusalem Early Music Workshop.

These are only a few of his achievements, and one can only hope that he will add the RTE¨ Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra to his regular commitments.

The symphony orchestra have a concert at the National Concert Hall on Mozart’s birthday, January 27, including his Requiem. But don’t miss the Irish Baroque Orchestra which will give a series of concerts, with music by Vivaldi, Telemann and Bach at the National Concert Hall January 24-29.

There are all day events during the week, some free, to introduce you to Baroque music.

More information on www.irishbaroqueorchestra.com