Pinchgut Opera concert reviews April 2023 City Recital Hall Membra Jesu Nostri

PINCHGUT OPERA: MEMBRA JESU NOSTRI @ CITY RECITAL HALL

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As first concert for the year, Pinchgut Opera presented a popular and frequently recorded sacred work “Membra Jesu Nostri” by Dietrich Buxtehude. Written in the late 1600s this is the largest work so far discovered by Buxtehude and is unusual in the way it was composed. Written in tribute to the body of Christ on the cross, it is a cycle of seven sections, each devoted to a body part, working its way from Christ’s feet and knees up to his heart and face. If you imagine sitting at the feet of Christ, your eye would slowly rise from what is closest to you all the way up to the head. The music rises in tonality through each section until it once again reaches the key of the first cantata for the final reprise. Each body part section is musically broken down further into concerto, aria and cantatas for multiple voices so there is plenty of variety for singers and musicians alike.

The stanzas are an interesting mix taken from medieval texts, the Christian and Hebrew bibles. We were lucky to have the words projected on the backdrop ahead of each section, which then dissolved into an elegant black and white slide show to match the body parts. 

Only once was a snicker aroused when the words from Isaiah 66 were shown on the screen “You shall be nursed, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced on her knees”. The first noticeable image for this section was a close up of large male knee or knees covered with lots of dark curly hair. Suddenly “her” knees became a debatable subject. Male and female body parts were used throughout the work, though this was the only image that appealed to the audience sense of humour.

Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest added spot lighting around the perimeter directed towards centre stage, drawing the eye into the heart of the performing space. A touch of smoke added to the intimacy and a softness to the over all visuals. Very classy.

The line up of young singers (2 sopranos, 1 mezzo, 1 tenor, 1 bass) was impressive, each with solos to highlight them individually. The singers appeared to thoroughly enjoy the performance, often melting with eyes closed into the instrumental breaks. The two sopranos Alexander Oomens and Lauren Lodge-Campbell were very different from each other adding much variety to the sound of the work and also supporting each other beautifully in many sections. Oomens unique ringing tone flew over the ensemble whilst Lodge-Campbells smokey tones made for a more sophisticated perspective. Mezzo Hannah Fraser and Tenor Louis Hurley provided clear, expressive interpretations whilst bass Andrew O’Connor provided his usual reliable solid foundation. (There were literally women sighing behind me when he sang!)

Orchestra of the Antipodes provided their usual, excellent performance demonstrating plenty of flexibility – particularly as the second half of the work demands violins be put aside, replaced with a quintet of viols. It was fun seeing the different sized viols working together, some almost as small as a violin held between the knees.

Artistic Director Erin Helyard padded out the program with a couple of delightful improvisation Fantasia’s by Pachelbel, a contemporary of Buxtehude. Pachelbel’s Canon is his most recognised work though he actually wrote a mammoth amount, particularly for organ, and even dedicated one of his works to Buxtehude, such was his admiration. Helyard performed the Pachelbel works on a small organ set centre stage so, with his back to the audience, he could direct the ensemble.

One more work completed the program, again by Buxtehude, his “Laudate, Pueri, Dominum”, was a truly joyful work that made a suitable crescendo. The audience were very pleased with the program. Comments overheard in the foyer were dominated by what appears to be a growing fan base for Andrew O’Connor.

Great work Pinchgut! We look forward to your next performance.

Program

Fantasia in G Minor P. 128 by Johann Pachelbel

Membra Jesu Nostri BuxWV 75 by Dieterich Buxtehude

Fantasia in A Minor P. 126 by Johann Pachelbel

Laudate, Pueri, Dominum BuxWV 69 by Dieterich Buxtehude

Artists

Alexandra Oomens, Lauren Lodge-Campbell, Hannah Fraser, Louis Hurley, Andrew O’Connor

Erin Helyard directing Orchestra of the Antipodes

Lighting

Trent Suidgeest

Related Links

Pinchgut Opera website: https://www.pinchgutopera.com.au/

Erin Helyard’s introduction to Membra Jesu Nosti https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NkwmYq2GkI

More detailed explanation of member Jesu Nostri https://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2023/03/a-musical-monument-of-lenten-piety.html

What’s on at City Recital Hall? https://www.cityrecitalhall.com/whats-on/

This performance was on 1 April 2023 at City Recital Hall, Angel Place in central Sydney Australia.