B minor Mass

Saturday 25 March 2017, 7.30pm

Winchester Cathedral

  • J S Bach: Mass in B minor

Ruby Hughes, Soprano

Robin Blaze, Counter-tenor

Andrew Staples, Tenor

Benjamin Bevan, Bass

Florilegium

Andrew Lumsden, Conductor

About this Event

J. S. Bach's Mass in B Minor is one of the great cornerstones of the choral repertoire. Composed at the end of his life, the Mass draws upon material composed much earlier and reworked into a monumental masterpiece. The reasons for its composition remain a mystery - it is too long for any sacred usage and no record survives as to why Bach wrote it. What we see in it today is a summation of Bach's art, an encyclopaedia of his compositional skills. From the solemnity of the Kyrie and the deliberately old-fashioned style of the Credo opening through to the joy of the Gloria and sheer brilliance of the Sanctus, Bach presents us with art at the service of, and in praise of God.

It is fitting, in this 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the chapel door in Wittenberg, an event seen as the start of the Protestant Reformation, that the Waynflete Singers should present one of the greatest works by one of the greatest Lutheran composers. The Protestants of Leipzig were used to hearing elements of the Catholic Mass as part of their special feast-day services but, even if they had heard parts of the B Minor Mass, they never had the opportunity to hear it in its entirety.

The Waynflete Singers joined the wonderful Florilegium under the inspired direction of Andrew Lumsden and the audience experienced one of Western culture's blazing masterpieces in the ancient surroundings of Winchester Cathedral.

Reviews

The following review appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle, submitted by Derek Beck

A notice promoting the first 19th century edition of Bach's B minor Mass described it as "the Greatest Work of Art of All Times and Nations". It is sobering to think that the composer never heard a complete performance of this fabulously intricate yet commandingly structured and vast creation. He would have appreciated the power and conviction evident from all participants in the Cathedral's recent concert by the Waynflete Singers plus soloists and Florilegium period band. This was the 25th collaboration between choir and orchestra since 1996.

Bach might not have anticipated a choir of over 100 voices but conductor Andrew Lumsden had prepared them thoroughly and by adopting slightly exaggerated phrasings in several movements (as in the opening Kyrie and later in Cum Sancto Spiritu) he achieved clarity and considerable rhythmic verve throughout. The fastest tempi rarely fazed the singers and helped propel the music forward over its lengthy span. Guests reinforced the tenor section with impressive results but truly thrilling were the many soprano chorus climaxes, radiant in that acoustic even when frequently divided in two. For much of the Mass the ladies were joined by sixteen of the Cathedral's Girl Choristers. All were remarkably responsive to Mr Lumsden's minimal indications of tempo changes and dynamic nuances.

Equally persuasive were the contributions of four excellent soloists each of whom seemed positively to relish the wonders of this great work. Soprano Ruby Hughes, counter tenor Robin Blaze, tenor Andrew Staples and bass Benjamin Bevan all controlled Bach's long lines and integrated superbly with the fine obbligato soloists in the Florilegium orchestra. Perhaps for listeners at a distance it would have been preferable to use fewer instruments (particularly in bass registers) when accompanying such busy vocal solos, reserving the full ensemble for supporting the choruses.

This monumental musical canvas taxes the musicality and stamina of all its interpreters who on this occasion rose magnificently to the challenge.