Membra Jesu Nostri (Pinchgut Opera)
Membra Jesu Nostri ★★★★½
Pinchgut Opera, Melbourne Recital Centre, April 4
Setting the scene for the approaching commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Sydney-based Pinchgut Opera has given a deeply felt account of Dietrich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri, a cycle of seven cantatas by the Danish-born baroque composer contemplating the body of Jesus on the cross. Adopting the upward gaze of a pilgrim at the foot of the cross, the music considers in turn the feet, knees, hands, side, breast and heart of the crucified Jesus, culminating with his head crowned with thorns.
Directed from the organ by Erin Helyard and supported by players from the Orchestra of the Antipodes, Pinchgut harnessed the potent vocal energy of five fine young singers. An appealingly complementary pair, sopranos Alexandra Oomens and Lauren Lodge-Campbell impressed with a nuanced mixture of lustre and clarity, while the burnished mezzo-soprano of Hannah Fraser made its mark particularly in the fifth cantata. It was here that Louis Hurley also deployed his honeyed tenor to great expressive effect. In the penultimate cantata Andrew O’Connor’s sonorous bass made an intense appeal to the heart of Jesus. Underpinning this rich vocal ensemble, the instrumentalists played with understated elegance, occasionally flashing with dramatic fire when the music demanded. They also invested the finale, Buxtehude’s Laudate, Pueri, Dominumfor two sopranos and viols, with radiant Easter joy. Helyard’s nimble touch at the keyboard brought alive two organ fantasias by Buxtehude’s younger contemporary Johann Pachelbel that served as preludes to the vocal works.
Creating a plush, dark ambience with some floral imagery, the lighting design by Trent Suidgeest subtly reflected the musical mood but kept the focus predominantly on the performers. Marked by undeniable sincerity, such a finely textured and involving performance confirms Pinchgut’s leading role in Australia’s early music scene. Here’s hoping one of the company’s operatic productions will eventually come to Melbourne. Reviewed by Tony Way