Above : Andrew Bukenya is joined by a sixteen-voice vocal ensemble in this celebration of Bach’s influence and influencers. Photo: Paul Nolan.

Andrew Bukenya’s experience as a choral conductor with expert attention to line, nuance and impact made this entertainment with excellent assembled voices a special one.  The event’s energy and excellence made us crave for more than the mere seventy minute time slot allocated at the Neilson Nutshell.

Part of this week’s Temperament Bach festival-a music festival within the Sydney Festival, the concert has sixteen vocalists join Bukenya. Brilliantly fit after only two rehearsals with him, these choral artists benefitted from this conductor’s energy, experience and enlightening historical view of JS Bach’s environment, legacy and skilful manipulation of vocal lines.

Spine-tingling warmth, musicianship and precision despite demands of the music or texture was continually on display during this showcase-celebration.

Music history aspects so dynamically showcased here was what preceded Bach, the musicians who worked to preserve and promote Bach’s works after his death plus composers to continue the glory of Bach’s capable choral counterpoint and ability to evoke emotion.

This immensely enjoyable, intricately programmed musical event, with  Bukenya’s exemplary narration, brought Bach and an immense swoop of musical cultural and choral history alive for us.

The stomping, hooting Festival crowd along for the riveting ride was refreshing to be in. In this Bach festival within a festival, they were joyously hungry for choral and vocal ensemble music. Bukenya and his choir delivered many times over, with a cornucopia of music from Renaissance Europe to recent times.

The charismatic direction by UK-born and trained Bukenya, supplied music with a brilliant range of nuance, blend and agility. It celebrated the beauty of music before and beyond JS Bach. It displayed the intimate fireworks possible to experience through quality a capella vocal performance, which benefitted from this venue’s superb acoustic.

Above : Andrew Bukenya and choristers at the event’s conclusion. Photo : Paul Nolan.

This concert began with the vocalists spread around us, up and down the Neilson Nutshell steps, to deliver the polyphony of Bach’s predecessor, Heinrich Schütz. Flowing in beautifully hued sequence from this initial pre-Bach point, the concert’s brackets of music included detailed renderings of works by Palestrina, JC Bach and more.

Brackets of music which featured the music of  those responsible for resurrecting Bach’s music, namely the prodigious composer Felix Mendelssohn, his sister Fanny and pianist-composer Clara Schumann were a special inclusion. It was a true gift to hear the rarely-performed music for vocal ensemble by the female Bach-soldiers Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn on this programme. Both were realised by the excellent ensemble voices with luscious tone and brilliant phrasing.

Music by African-American choral composers and practitioners Christopher Harris aa well as the twentieth century organist and composer Betty King brought a stunning modern perspective and narrative to the refections on Bach’s influence. Harris’ ‘Bring Me All Your Dreams’ early in the presentation brought a modern emotional aspect to the choral offerings . Betty Jackson King’s work also was stunning in its use of vocal atmosphere and climax Bach would admire.

A highlight of the event’s svelte salute to JS Bach was an impressive a cappella version of two movements from his ‘Singet den Herrn ein neus Lied BWV 225. This excerpt from the popular work for double choir and orchestra based on Psalms 149 and 150 was here delivered with precision, keen momentum. Despite the challenging a cappella format, there was an enviable blend within and between the two choirs in this version. This a capella treatment of the music served to highlight even more Bach’s contrapuntal skill, plus the talents of these Temperament Series vocalists and conductor working hard together.

Bukenya’s addition of another great UK musician, Michael Tippett was another great touch in the programming. Tippett’s arrangement of Spirituals replacing Bachian chorales in the oratorio A Child Of Our Time was a clever parallel to JS Bach, and a welcome piece of programming.  Especially for the presence of war in our current time. The tenderness and exuberance of the chosen songs, namely ‘Steal Away’ and Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’ were articulated with control, flexible hue and nice group attack here, both from featured voices and the group texture.

The final work heard was a fitting end to this multifaceted trip through history and musical diversity surrounding the master. The Ward Swingle version of Bach’s ‘Fugue in D minor’ from The Art of Fugue BWV 1080 brought this worthwhile musicological tribute to a consistently high-calibre close. It was heard due to lack of time in the absence of the promised music by Afro-Portuguese Renaissance composer Vicente Lusitano. Hopefully this Renaissance work is not missed in the next concert.

The quote by Bikenya from the excellent Temperemant series programme magazine also gives a nice and sobering perspective on local music making, particularly as this concert series with his assembled choir premiered tin Australia the day after Jan 26: ….”A chance to reflect on my choral journey and experience as a UK-born-and-raised musician of Ugandan descent, performing art music in Australia in an arena where black and brown people are the exception not the rule.”

This concert is a key part of the Temperament Series. It is a major, accessible and always enjoyable comment on the power of JS Bach. Whether you are a fan of Bach and choral music or a newcomer needing the joyous humanity of live performance-don’t miss this!

A repeat concert of  ‘Bach In Colour’ can be heard on Sun Jan 28 at 11am, at the well-appointed Sydney Festival venue -ACO, Neilson (The Thirsty Mile) Pier 2-3 13A Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay Arts Precinct.

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