A brave Kapiti Chamber Choir gives good account of Bach’s Mass in B minor

Kapiti Chamber Choir conducted by Eric Sidoti

Bach: Mass in B minor

Soloists: Katherine McIndoe – soprano, Elizabeth Harris – soprano, Ruth Reid – contralto, John Beaglehole – tenor, Roger Wilson – bass
And Orchestra

Paraparaumu College Auditorium

Sunday 26 April, 2:30 pm

The Kapiti Chamber Choir is the smaller of the two choirs in the district (the other, larger, choir is the Kapiti Chorale) established or taken over by Peter Godfrey after he came to Kapiti.

Some might have felt that it was singularly ambitious for an amateur choir to tackle one of the biggest and most demanding choral works. In their defence, however, their conductor Eric Sidoti reported that this was the runaway favourite when, after taking it over in 2013, he surveyed the choir on its wish-list. He minimised the challenge by suggesting that his main task had been to ensure that he had the forces to cope with the varying orchestral, choral and soloists requirements.

Middle C finds itself a bit stretched at present in terms of the availability of its small team of reviewers, and it fell to me (by no means reluctant) to make a southward trip from a retreat at Waikawa Beach, miscalculating travel times and traffic. I arrived about 15 minutes late as the reprise of the Kyrie began.

I sat on the nearest seat, right under the noses of the soloists, which gave me a feeling of intimacy and almost participation, but a somewhat unbalanced impression of the chorus, as well as having certain parts of the orchestra, for example, trumpets in the Gloria, and the soloists too close. Perhaps it allowed me to enjoy a certain amount of slightly disorganised playing occasionally, iffy intonation and approximate ensemble, such as the start of the ‘Laudamus te’. But it gave an unjust overall impression, as I found when I moved to the back of the hall after the interval.

I’m sure that the orchestral skills had not suddenly improved by the Credo, after the interval; and that whatever blemishes I heard at close quarters simply became rather unimportant when one heard the whole in proper, fairer perspective.

One thing that struck me throughout was the general strength of the men’s parts of the choir, and the curious impression that there were more weaknesses in sopranos and altos, though they too never amounted to real shortcomings.

Soloists were very able, ranging from experienced singers like alto Ruth Reid, tenor John Beaglehole and bass Roger Wilson (his solo in ‘Et in spiritum’ lay quite high, but there seemed no strain; his solo in ‘Quoniam’ on the other hand was lower), to new graduates who took the two soprano parts, Katherine McIndoe and Elizabeth Harris both of whom displayed bright, attractive voices that filled their roles with intelligence and accuracy.

There were some fine moments: Elizabeth Harris with Jay Hancox’s violin obbligato in the ‘Laudamus te’ of the Gloria; the duet between Katherine McIndoe and Ruth Reid, ‘Et in unum’, went well. John Beaglehole had fine moments in ‘Domine Deus’ (with Katherine McIndoe) and with flutist Malu Jonas in the Benedictus; the duetting of Roger Wilson and trumpeter Andrew Weir in ‘Quoniam’ made an impact, and trumpets were again brilliant in the ‘Et resurrexit’ in the Credo. One of the trumpets (Mark Carter’s?) looked and sounded like a piccolo trumpet, lending an authentic baroque character.

The conductor chose to use soloists in place of the chorus in certain places, as is done quite often, affording better clarity as well giving them more welcome exposure.

I was very glad that we had an orchestra accompanying, with some nice oboes (one came close to sounding like an oboe d’amore) and flutes; I enjoyed the capable timpani contribution too.

The Mass, much of it drawn from earlier music written for other contexts, is remarkable for its aesthetic coherence, but its various origins also afford it a variety of style and emotion that is not only appropriate to the subject of each section, but also maintains the audience’s interest. And even from a smallish choir of non-specialist singers, the long work did indeed hold the attention, and gave the almost full house a very satisfying two hours of great music.


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