Saturday 19 August 2017

Review: Sombre solemnity and haunting flutes

Classical: Bach Collegium Japan, National Concert Hall

Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach

Pat O'Kelly

On its first visit here, under inspired conductor Masaaki Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan presents its mentor's monumental B minor Mass as part of the NCH's International Concert Series.

Formed in 1990, BCJ is a relatively small vocal and period instrument ensemble. Its dedication to Bach, combined with the quality of its performances, has brought it worldwide recognition.

While Bach may have completed his Mass towards the end of his life, the Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus were written much earlier. Elsewhere he re-used material from several of his extant Cantatas, yet the end result suggests nothing less than an integrated entity.

Initially, it takes a little while to adjust to BCJ's compact forces but, once appreciated, the limitations disappear in an almost perfect realisation of Bach's masterpiece.

There are many delights, not least the choir's supple flexibility in the complexity of Bach's undulating lines. Besides, the 17 choral voices belie the strength of their unforced tone. Even the breathless excitement of the eight-part Osanna in excelsis is unfailingly compelling.

Earlier the bright ring of the florid Gloria has resplendent radiance with the Credo's Et resurrexit and Et expecto equally uplifting in joyous celebration.

In quieter sections, sombre solemnity touches the expectancy of Et incarnatus est while the Crucifixus produces a feeling of suspended animation.

Arias and duets enjoy the advantage of superlative obbligato playing particularly the haunting flute in tenor Zachary Wilder's perceptive Benedictus, the gentle oboes d'amore accompanying both countertenor Robin Blaze's purity in Qui sedes and bass Dominick Wörner's dignity in Et in Spiritum sanctum.

Overall, the evening shows not only the universality of Bach's work but also Bach Collegium Japan's mainly magical interpretation of it under Masaaki Suzuki's unwavering guidance.

Irish Independent

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