J S Bach B Minor Mass – Musical Opinion
St Martin in the Fields, June 2010
It was a privilege to attend the performance of Bach’s great Mass in B Minor at St Martin-in-the-Fields on June 19th, by the Vasari Singers as one of the highlights of their thirtieth anniversary season. The most compelling aspect of this performance was the singing of this truly remarkable choral group, so beautifully focused and balanced as a totality, but the quality of this performance overall resided perhaps more importantly in the splendid tempos which founder-conductor Jeremy Backhouse chose for this superb acoustic. The Kyrie can often drag, and equally – at the other extreme from the ‘authentic’ school – appear too fast for the seriousness of the text, but here the speed could not have been faulted. The admirable Southbank Sinfonia (of whom we should hear a great deal more) played with splendid precision and genuine musicality.
The choice of soloists – sopranos Lucy Crowe and Claire Seaton, counter-tenor Michael Chance, tenor James Gilchrist and bass Peter Harvey – had clearly been invited for their individual and corporate artistry.
This was no routine account, but a deeply affecting and profoundly lasting performance of this glory of Europe art. We all hoped for a fine concert – we were certainly not disappointed. Can we have a Liszt Mass, or his setting of psalm 13, for his bi-centenary next year from these musicians?