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Bach Akademie Australia: Music in the Castle of Heaven - Review by Faith Jessel

Pardon the pun, but I'll confess I arrived at the sacred space of Our Lady of Dolours, Chatswood, the impressive dome towering above a precursor of what was to come, knowing only a few things about Mr Johann Sebastain Bach. Coming from a ballet background filled mainly with Tchaikovsky and Delibes, I respected and understood him from a distance. At times, I recognised a few pieces of his work and indelible style.

So what an auspicious opportunity it was to expand my knowledge and immerse myself in the perfectly titled Music in the Castle of Heaven. I walked out two hours later feeling informed, transformed and most of all spiritually uplifted, just as Bach intended. The power of superbly composed music, exquisitely performed in an atmospheric setting with wonderful acoustics is testimony to this.

This year marks 300 years since Bach won the appointment of Kantor in Leipzig, Germany. Without this fortuitous position, the monumental body of work he produced may never have existed. Bach Akademie Australia Artistic Director Madeleine Easton and her magnificent team of gifted talent making up an extensive orchestra and choir, are passionate advocates for shining a spotlight upon this fascinating composer, while celebrating his legacy and works.

The audience was treated to three majestic and varied Cantatas, gloriously presenting Bach’s genius, transporting us to an ascension between heaven and earth. Sometimes it felt as if the roof would lift off with triumphant intensity. In the wake of the lulls you could hear yourself breathe. This is the way everyone should be introduced to Bach!

I was grateful for the extensive, complimentary program unpacking the history and motivation of each piece which also translated the lyrics into English, ensuring I could follow Bach’s intention and message. Sometimes I found myself, like many others attending, closing my eyes and consciously allowing the beauty of soaring voices wash over and around me.

Personally, this particular recital was an ethereal experience rather than pure entertainment or intellectual enjoyment. For this reason, it was impossible to channel Music in the Castle of Heaven into the style of a typical review. What can I say except the singing and musicianship was faultlessly superb? A seamless and harmonious congregation of transcendence. Critiquing a particular talent, chorale or aria does not serve the experience or purpose.

Classical music, especially played live, can be equated to a religious experience. Bach’s works are a purposeful medium for sublime centeredness and connection. In the words of Bach Akademie international patron Sir John Eliot Gardiner; ’But it is Bach, making music in the Castle of Heaven, who gives us the voice of God – in human form. He is the one who blazes a trail, showing us how to overcome our imperfections through the perfections of his music: to make divine things human and human things divine.”

Bach Akademie Australia delivers this encounter with precision, passion and joy.

5 Chorales out of 5

Go to for upcoming Bach Akademie performances.

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