Bach’s Mass in B Minor review: Mystery and miracle from Choir of Trinity College Cambridge/OAE/Layton

St John’s Smith Square, London

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The Independent Culture

Bach’s Mass in B Minor is a mystery and a miracle, and had to wait a century for its premiere; as the summation of all Bach’s vocal ideas it demands exceptional performers. And that’s what it got in this lovely Baroque auditorium, with four fine soloists, the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Stephen Layton’s direction.

The opening phrase of the choral Kyrie carried a dark charge immediately answered by translucent instrumental timbres; when soprano Katherine Watson and countertenor Iestyn Davies launched into the ‘Christe eleison’, the dark/light opposition continued through the contrast in their voices. Paired with tenor Gwilym Bowen, Watson’s voice then seemed to assume a different hue; bass Neal Davies made the most of the one aria which allowed his voice to fly.

No praise too high for the youthful choir, whose sound had a wonderful freshness and attack, or for the orchestra’s period-instrument virtuosity; Layton’s masterly pacing allowed each element in the work to flower in its own way, with the ‘Osanna’ rocking crazily, the ‘Incarnatus est’ exuding marmoreal stillness, the angular counterpoint of the ‘Confiteor’ fairly scudding along, and the ‘Sanctus’ thrusting up like a great tree out of the earth.

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