Bach by Candlelight | Perth Chamber OrchestraPhoto – Richard Jefferson

The candlelit arches of St George’s Cathedral provided a stunning setting for the many and varied sounds of Johannes Sebastian Bach performed by the Perth Chamber Orchestra.

The evening opened with baroque organist Stewart Smith performing Bach’s majestic Toccata, which showcased the full power of the Cathedral’s West Organ and its 3516 pipes.

WA actor James Hagan played the character of “Grumpy Bach” throughout the evening, entertaining the audience with his musings on the life and works of the composer. It helped some interesting facts about Bach stick, including the fact he had 20 children (10 of whom lived past childhood), many who became musicians and performers themselves.

The orchestra was superb and the variety of performances kept things interesting. Paul Wright, concertmaster and principal violinist, is a master of his craft and made his instrument sing superbly.

One of the evening’s highlights was a haunting solo by principal cellist, Sophie Curtis, who played a movement from Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello. Another moment for me was Bach’s well-known Air on a G String, which was improvised over by one of Australia’s leading saxophonists, Jamie Oehlers.

While the acoustics of the cathedral were lovely, the experience would have been enhanced if the sound was a little louder. Seats were not allocated so although we arrived ten minutes early, we could only find seats in the very last row and felt quite far from the action and not fully immersed in the music, particularly during the vocal performance, which was beautiful but hard to hear clearly.

The cathedral doors were also left open which meant it was very cold, particularly at the back, and also allowed a couple of drunk teenagers to wander in and start making out just behind us. It also felt like there was a little too much of “Grumpy Bach” and his theatricals as well as two long intermissions and not quite enough music.

Overall, the musicians themselves were outstanding as was the concept of Bach by candelight in the architectural setting of the iconic cathedral and it was a fitting tribute to the many sounds of Bach.

The Perth Chamber Orchestra was only launched in 2013 and one of their aims is to “present concerts that combine music with visual, sensory, aural and emotional components”. It was an enjoyable evening but I look forward to seeing how they evolve and improve, particularly in meeting some of the challenges presented in the interesting spaces they perform.

Perth Chamber Orchestra presents
Bach by Candlelight

Venue: St George’s Cathedral, Perth
Date: 31 August 2016
Tickets: from $85

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