Bach: Mass in B minor
Bach Choir / David Hill at the Royal Festival Hall
2nd February 2005
The Bach Choir go from strength to strength, and this performance of Bach's Mass in B minor was a confirmation of the quality of their singing. Where many conductors will head for the spiritual heart of the piece David Hill seemed instead to concentrate on the musical values and to allow the spiritual side to emerge from that. Thus there are no hushed super-spiritual moments, no emotional pauses, but we are constantly confronted with the most magnificent balance and sense of musical integrity. The opening Kyrie was as close to perfection as I can recall. For once ever line was so carefully balanced that every part could be heard complete and intact within the melos of the score. It was a revelation, with no voice, no instrument lost. The choir may be large but it sings with the flexibility and precision of a much smaller ensemble. This has distinct advantages when partnered by the smaller scale impact of Florilegium, where woodwind and brass often seem to overawe the strings. Solo woodwind were particularly impressive though the horn was facing the wrong way for his solo, making the sound appear to come from off-stage! Where the chorus needs weight and authority it can be given its head but more often it is held in check, like a large organ which one always feels has more to give. There is never any sense of strain from these singers. The overtly relaxed pace for the Sanctus allowed the lines to float and dance in the most captivating way.
David Hill had divided them antiphonally across the platform to allow Bach's part writing to be even more effective - and it proved to be so. The soloists were happily at the same level. Susan Gritton and Robin Blaze made a wonderful combination, with effortless coloratura and great beauty of line. Andrew Tortise is a fine baroque tenor who will be working with William Christie this summer. Stephan Loges by comparison was a rather bluff baritone, probably fine within the right parts but without the purity of sound to match the other three soloists. Jane Watts was, as often, the organ continuo, adding ample support and grace where needed.
The Bach Choir will give their annual performances of the St Matthew Passion at the Royal Festival Hall on 13 and 20 March.
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