Bach Mass in B minor – Saturday 17 March 2012

Bath Abbey
Is Bach’s B Minor Mass the greatest work ever written? It’s a big claim. Or the St Matthew Passion? Every Bach lover will have a view.  And many...

Bath Abbey

Is Bach’s B Minor Mass the greatest work ever written? It’s a big claim. Or the St Matthew Passion? Every Bach lover will have a view. And many conductors put off directing it until they feel equipped to take on the challenges it poses. This was a mature, extrovert performance, the tempi beautifully judged from the opening Kyrie, confident and assured.

It had bounding energy where the score demands it, in the Cum Sancto Spiritu: quiet, restrained melancholy in the Crucifixus, bursting into life with dramatic intensity in the Et resurrexit.

The Sanctus and Osanna brought joyful optimism with a sense of urgency and pace before the contemplative reassurance of the final Dona nobis pacem. This was a reading which had the sometimes elusive combination of ebullience and questioning, of breathless urgency and thoughtful reflection. Nigel Perrin got it just right – and how well the choir responded, despite the abbey acoustic not being at its most benign. I heard none of the opening remarks from the pulpit. But the singing was inspired: it did this wonderful piece full justice and that is a very significant achievement.

Soloist Lucy Hall has a fine clear soprano, the phrasing graceful, and confident in the upper register. William Purefoy’s alto is very impressive, assured and mellow, the range controlled and expressive, his Agnus Dei infinitely moving, yet heartening, a perfect blend. Tenor James Geer took the Benedictus with elegance and poise, the voice rounded and resonant.  

Music for Awhile is one of our better instrumental groups under leader Margaret Faultless. This was a model of sympathetic yet firm accompaniment, the string playing immaculate, the woodwind obbligatos excellently judged, and the trumpets suitably exultant and insistent. Marcus Sealy’s organ continuo was as utterly reliable and supportive as ever. This was an immensely satisfying B Minor and Nigel Perrin clearly has an empathetic understanding of its complexity and its majestic dimensions. The abbey audience showed its total approval.

©Peter Lloyd Williams Bath Chronicle 19 March 2012

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