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BWW Review: B MINOR MASS BY JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH at Church Of The Holy Trinity

BWW Review: B MINOR MASS BY JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH at Church Of The Holy Trinity

BWW Review: B MINOR MASS BY JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH at Church Of The Holy Trinity

Bach.

The simple surname of a person who was anything but simple.

Johann Sebastian Bach's (1685-1750) tremendous compositional output included instrumental works such as orchestral suites, chamber music, keyboard works, virtuoso pieces for specific instruments, music for no specified instrumentation, and so much more. He composed organ works by the dozens and could be said to have "written the book" on the four part harmonic style he did not invent but rather, completely re-invented. His vocal music encompassed solos and ensembles small and-for his time-large. After taking a prestigious post at a church in Leipzig, he composed and performed a new cantata (usually a religious choral work) every Sunday for a year. And then repeated this feat every year for about six years. Along with everything else on his musical and personal plate.

All of this from a man who never left Germany, married twice, and fathered twenty children.

For reasons that are unclear even today, over a period of two decades in fits and starts and sometimes using previously written music in certain movements, the Lutheran Bach composed a Catholic Mass in B Minor(BWV 232). Never performed in its entirety during his lifetime, it also appears as though it was not intended for liturgical use. Different sections were composed at different points in his career and it was only fully assembled a year before he died. The first documented complete performance wasn't held until 1859, one hundred and nine years after Bach's death.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity on the Upper West Side of New York City is known for its 50 year old tradition of Bach Vespers (evening prayer) services. The congregation is privileged to have professional musicians forming up the choir and when needed, instrumentalists. They make up what is known as the Bach Choir and Players of Holy Trinity, under the direction of Cantor Donald Meineke. Specializing in historical performance practice (so the audience can hear the music as it would have been heard when it was written), they are famed for their renditions of music from the 15th-18thcenturies.

On Sunday April 15, this choir and orchestra presented the complete Mass in B Minor at the Holy Trinity Church. The sold-out audience was treated to a performance highlighted by the use of many period instruments, such as the rich tone of the oboe d'amoré (actually, three of them), the warm sound of wooden flutes, and delightful natural (valveless)trumpets. One of the foremost natural trumpet players in the business, John Thiessen, was part of this formidable ensemble. The twenty-one piece orchestra was an equal partner to the eighteen voice choir.

Three of the four altos were adult men whose beautiful voices were reminiscent of a boy choir.

The choir sang with the pure, almost vibrato-less sound of the Baroque period. The vocal blend was nearly perfect, and at times so intertwined with the instrumentalists that it was hard to tell which was which. A sweetly played flute obbligato in "Domine Deus" wove in and around the duet of the marvelous tenor (Mr.Derek Chester) and soprano (Ms.Molly Quinn) soloists. Of special note was the spirited full chorus of the "Cum Sancto" movement which ended the first half of the Mass, and the full out joyous singing of the "Et expecto resurrectionem" during the "Confiteor" section. The outstanding sound of the natural trumpets, sounding strikingly similar to the piccolo trumpet, gave the singing even more joyousness, especially during the "Gloria" movement. A natural horn (similar to but not the same as the French horn) played by Kaci Cummings and two bassoonists accompanied the fine bass soloist Mr. Enrico Lagasca during the "Quoniam tu solus sanctus" aria. It's interesting to note that Bach scored his music to the needs of whomever was performing it. This particular section, for example, used the horn in Dresden during a performance there because it was a noted center of horn playing.

The choir's diction throughout the concert was clear, dynamics nuanced, and all were breathing as one. Cantor Meineke never got in the way of the music. His direction was precise yet expressive, his dynamic indications producing exactly the right level of sound. Entrances and releases were smooth and sublime. The recurrent "Osanna" danced in the perfect acoustic of the church, and the entire chorus seemed to be dancing in place as well. During the "Benedictus" Cantor Meineke stepped away from the podium and let the tenor, Mr. Chester, along with the flutes, low strings, and organ (played by the never intrusive Dylan Sauerwald) give a stunning performance of this movement. Another bass soloist, Mr. Brian Mummert, gave a fine performance during the "Et in Spiritum Sanctum" section.

The glorious mezzo soloist, Ms. Luthien Brackett, did the heavy lifting for much of the solo work in the Mass. Among other noteworthy moments, she sang the lovely "Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris" with the oboi (more than one oboe) d'amore obbligati, and her extended solo during the "Agnus Dei" was properly somber and deeply moving.

All the musicians looked as though they were having a seriously wonderful time performing this towering, magisterial work. Perhaps Bach had always intended to complete it as a cohesive piece-the final "Dona Nobis Pacem" uses almost the same music as the "Gratias agimus tibi" from a movement close to the beginning of the piece, and he also signed the final page in his usual style, dedicating the Mass to the "glory of God"- or perhaps not. For whatever purpose, for whatever reason or reasons, Bach produced a magnificent work of art that is widely hailed as one of the greatest compositions in musical history. Performances such as this one are rare, and fortunate were those who heard this splendid concert.




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