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  • Writer's pictureNapier Civic Choir

Review for Arvo Pärt and J S Bach

Updated: Jun 12, 2018

Directed by José Aparicio.  

Friday 4 May - St John’s Cathedral, Napier

Arvo Part Te Deum

JS Bach - Jesu meine Freude, BWV 227

and Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4

Napier Civic Choir and Hawke's Bay Orchestra

Reviewed by Peter Williams

This was a demanding programme for the choir, and probably for many in the audience in coming to terms with the unusual structure and idiom of the Pärt Te Deum which filled the first half of the programme. Those familiar with the liturgical use of the Te Deum would have expected an exultant forte for the opening Te Deum Laudamus (We praise Thee, O God). Instead, the basses intoned the words like an unmeasured medieval chant, before others of the choir joined in using normal choral notation, centered then, and throughout the composition, on D chord tonality. The intent of the composer was to create something which was infinitely mystical and unmeasurable, perhaps influenced by the music of the Eastern Orthodox Church of which he is a member. José Aparicio led the choir effectively to create this atmosphere, as they coped well with the unusual features of the score – the frequent changes of tempi and time signatures, the division of the singers  into various combinations, and the alternating of the singing with the  orchestral accompaniment. 

In singing the two Bach compositions - the motet Jesu mein Freude and the Easter cantata Christ lag  in Todes Banden  – in the second part of the programme, the

choir was performing in a familiar idiom, enhanced by singing in Bach’s native tongue, and produced some impressive moments  in each work.

The variety of harmony and texture in Bach chorales is boundless, and these were all sung with impressive authority, flowing tempos and clarity of parts, whenever they appeared.

Similarly, there  was much to commend in the numerous contrapuntal passages, with the opening of the central fugue in the Motet a standout example. 

The solo parts of the cantata were sung by the appropriate  section of the choir, providing contrast in the performance, though at times there could have been

 stronger projection so as to soar above the accompaniment.

The string orchestra and organ accompaniment was played with a real sense of style and gave excellent support to the singers throughout the performance, whilst the sections accompanied by just organist Anthony Tattersall and cellist Cameron Stuart, provided an impressive contrast. 

In each work, Conductor José Aparicio led the choir to a powerful sense of climax, providing a satisfying music experience for an appreciative audience.

The programme was repeated the following Sunday afternoon.

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