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The Nation’s Premier Baroque Chorus and Orchestra

Upcoming Events

Brandenburg ConcertosNov 11 2007 3:00P Harman Center for the Arts
Noontime Cantata Dec 4 2007 12:10P Church of the Epiphany
30th Anniversary CelebrationDec 7 2007 6:00PMansion at Strathmore
Christmas OratorioDec 7 2007 8:00P Music Center at Strathmore

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cecilia Porter's Review of the B Minor Mass Performance

The Washington Post
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why does Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B Minor still draw large audiences, who place it first above all other sacred music? It's anything but practical with its Latin text and tremendous scope in an age preferring more "accessible" church music with guitar or piano accompaniment instead of an organ, for example. And it is stupendously difficult to perform, challenging the stamina of both voices and instruments with long chains of winding melodic lines set in intricate contrapuntal textures that leave little time to breathe.

Yet the concert hall at Strathmore had few empty seats Wednesday when the Washington Bach Consort, conducted by J. Reilly Lewis (without a score), performed the Mass. And it was a night to remember: From start to finish, this chamber-size group of choristers, orchestra and soloists -- both vocal and instrumental -- made that leap beyond human abilities, which Bach demands, with compassion, tonal beauty and a sense of inevitable momentum. After a rather muted "Kyrie," the performers seemed to adjust to the hall's expansive acoustics, the musicmaking so magnificent and moving that the audience took a second to gasp at the end before its cheers.

This piece centers on the chorus, Lewis leading this premier ensemble (celebrating its 30th season) from peak to peak, as in the solemn and imploring "Qui tollis." All the instrumental soloists were superb on their devilishly demanding period instruments, as were the sensitive vocal soloists: sopranos Dominique Labelle and Kendra Colton, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone William Sharp. Inserting an intermission after the "Kyrie" and "Gloria" worked well since Bach composed them two decades before the other movements -- though the piece also works effectively when performed straight through. After intermission, Lewis slipped in a rarity, a fetching instrumental introduction to the "Credo": a hymn tune setting by Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel.

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