Brio Vocal Ensemble imports the USA for a St Andrew’s lunchtime.

Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and items from Sweeney Todd (Sondheim) and Candide (Bernstein)

Brio: Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Jody Orgias (mezzo), John Beaglehole (tenor), Justin Pearce (baritone) and guest singer Michel Alkhouri (bass baritone)
Piano: Robyn Jaquiery

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 2 March, 12.15pm

This was my first lunchtime concert for the year. It was a good start with a moderate sized audience. The performances were well presented and conveyed their dramatic qualities as well as is possible in a well-lit church with the sanctuary as backdrop and religious symbols as props.

Usually St Andrew’s is an acoustically friendly place, for chamber music by both strings and winds. Often, the piano is treated well though on occasions when a mat of some sort has been put beneath it, the sound has been less clangorous that when it is played with the lid fully up and standing on polished timber. Robyn Jaquiery’s playing of the accompaniments was admirable, though there were times when the sound lay too heavily on the singers.

I sat downstairs during the Sweeney Todd pieces and found it hard to catch words and was uncomfortable with the combination of voices and piano, so I went upstairs for the rest of the concert. There, voices were clearer and the words a little more understandable, but the hard reverberation was still troublesome.

Five very contrasted voices were involved: Janey MacKenzie’s soprano is agile and warmly lyrical, and she gave one of the few agreeable items in Sondheim’s opera a fine showing, and she was charming as Cunegonde in the happy waltz duet in Candide; as her partner, John Beaglehole portrayed the naive Candide with comparable affection and warmth.

Jody Orgias has an unusual voice which I happen to like but its heavy texture does have its limits in the interpretation of some characters. But she acts splendidly and she had a good deal of convincing work as Sally in A Hand of Bridge and in ‘We are easily assimilated’ from Candide. Justin Pearce too has a voice with certain limitations, and they made for a properly disturbing Sweeney, as well as good contributions in ensembles in Candide.

The guest artist was Michel Alkhouri (of Arab descent, growing up in Marseille) who had made his mark at Baron Trombonok in Il viaggio a Reims in the Opera in a Days Bay Garden last December. He opened with a striking scene-setting role in the Ballad of Sweeney Todd and was perfectly cast at Dr Pangloss in Candide.

I have to say that I find Sweeney Todd the most disagreeable theatrical piece I have ever seen and never want to be exposed to it again; it is currently fashionable to allow Sondheim as the Broadway composer most accepted by the classical world, perhaps because of the paucity of his melodic invention; I am not among his fans.

The other two works, however, are most worthy. A Hand of Bridge was interestingly done by the erstwhile Wellington Polytechnic Conservatorium of Music a couple of decades ago; though very short and very slender in content, it works musically and dramatically. And Candide is simply a brilliant, musically rich little masterpiece which deserves a full production in Wellington.

Oh, for our own professional opera company!