Pinchgut Opera’s first concert last year with Vivica Genaux was a great success and they have followed it up with another winner, one celebrating the brighter aspects of Easter with a happy pairing of Telemann’s Die Donnerode (Thunder Ode) and Bach’s Easter Oratorio. The Orchestra of the Antipodes was led from the harpsichord by their now regular conductor Erin Helyard, playing as usual on historical instruments at Baroque pitch. Also welcome was the one-voice-per-part choral singing (SATBB for Telemann, SATB for Bach); all the instrumental passages and combined voice moments were rendered with limpid transparent precision.

Erin Helyard © Albert Comper
Erin Helyard
© Albert Comper

This is said to be the first Australian performance of the Thunder Ode, a curious but delightful work written by Telemann quite late in his career in 1857, also the year of the Great Lisbon Earthquake. This, as his response to that event, shows an early glimpse of Romanticism in seeing in that catastrophe the irresistible and awe-inspiring might of nature. The piece does not entirely ignore the human cost, and implores God to protect the poor and alleviate their suffering (both works were sung entirely in German with English surtitles). Musically, with its short arias and choruses, it is an interesting contrast with Bach’s long-breathed passages,and contains in the bass solos and especially the duet "Es donnert, dass er verherrlicht werde".amazing onomatopoeic effects for the deep thundering voices, with help from the timpani.

The Easter Oratorio is of course one of Bach’s more joyful works, dealing with the events of Easter Sunday as retailed by conversations between Saints Peter and John and the three Marys, concluding with "Der Löwe von Juda kommt siegend gezogen!" ("The Lion of Judah approaches in Triumph"), accompanied by trumpets and timpani.

Alexandra Oomens and Anna Dowsley © Albert Comper
Alexandra Oomens and Anna Dowsley
© Albert Comper

Soprano Alexandra Oomens was outstanding. She had shown promise in earlier appearances with Pinchgut, and is now studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she is garnering praise and awards and more than living up to that promise. Her arias in both works were sheer delight, sung with lovely silvery tone, precise and well-articulated coloratura, smooth, even legato and emotional commitment. Her voice has considerable heft and can display a range of colours, pointing towards a successful career in opera, concert and recital.

All the (relatively) young singers brought great energy, commitment and talent to their task. Their German diction was in all cases clear and well-enunciated. Tall mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley was initially an amusing physical contrast to Oomens who is quite short, but that was soon unnoticed in the perfect blending of their voices, and in her own right Dowsley produced lovely warm tone, precise coloratura and sparkling high notes in the Bach aria "Saget, saget mir geschwinde". Richard Butler has a light but appealing tenor, also good in the passage work and in the low notes. David Greco is a well-established Australian bass, with firm resonant tone, even across its range. The less well-known Andrew O’Connor was an excellent foil to Greco, perhaps a little less well defined vocally but singing with equal energy and spirit. The balance of the singers in all the choral parts was excellent.

All the musicians were superb, but mention should be made of concertmaster Julia Fredersdorff, flautist Melissa Farrow and the trumpeters led by Richard Fomison, Brock Immerson on bassoon and Brian Nixon's timpani. And of course all praise to Erin Helyard for bringing it all together. The triumphant and joyful conclusion of the Easter Oratorio prompted rapturous applause from the capacity audience.

*****