JS Bach's B Minor Mass

Commissioned by a devoutly Catholic prince and covering the whole range of the Church's liturgy, the Mass in B minor could be seen as something of an anomaly, for it was composed by a life-long Protestant who is perhaps most famous for writing a huge number of Lutheran cantatas over his long career. But as soon as one hears the first haunting 'Kyrie' of Johann Sebastian Bach's ultimate religious apologia - he died a year after completing the mass, never hearing the finished version - it becomes impossible to associate this music with any other composer.

Indeed, Ludus Baroque's performance brilliantly accentuated many of aspects that show this masterpiece to be so obviously Bach's. His beautiful melodic lines and sophisticated contrapuntal harmonies were brought out by the intimate number of performers. Richard Neville-Towle expertly shepherded his small choir into singing with a force of expression that I have seldom heard.

The conductor regularly altered the dynamics within specific movements, allowing even a secular modern audience to appreciate the drama of the Catholic mass to the full. Certain words, like 'heaven' or 'glory', were imparted with a special resonance. Where the choir led the orchestra followed, with gentle string interludes suddenly sweeping up as the singers crested another wave of liturgical emotion. The concluding triumphalism of the 'In Expecto' was particularly powerful. More introspective moments were provided by the gainful flute playing of Rachel Helliwell and Siu Peasgood.

When it came to singing, too, the soloists proved a great success. Tim Mead's baleful countertenor rendition of the timeless Agnus Dei sent a collective spasm of emotion through the Canongate Kirk before all four soloists joined the choir for the rousing final movement Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant us peace).

A few of the musicians proved unconvincing. A challenging solo for corno da caccia was undermined by a litany of wrong notes. But these minor quibbles aside, Ludus Baroque's portrayal of the music, by turns dashing and affectionate, paid suitable homage to the B minor mass and its composer. Who knows, maybe if he'd listened to a full version of this typically Catholic masterpiece during his lifetime Bach might have been tempted to abandon Protestantism for the Roman Church. This performance would surely have been as good as any to supremely test the Cantor of Leipzig's fiercely stout Lutheran faith.

Reviews by Andrea Valentino

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Performances

The Blurb

Ludus Baroque chamber orchestra and chorus perform Bach's magnificent B Minor Mass, featuring four of the UK's most charismatic young soloists. 'An exuberant performance' (Independent).

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