Bach Mass in B Minor: Vivace Chorus and the Brandenburg Sinfonia

Bach’s Mass in B minor is a work of immense symmetry, beauty and power and Jeremy Backhouse brought it alive with the Vivace Chorus’ performance on Saturday 15 November at Guildford Cathedral.

It can be a difficult acoustic but the chorus, orchestra (Brandenburg Sinfonia) and soloists were balanced with aplomb. The opening Kyrie was carefully shaped, and the central duet was sung with obvious delight by sopranos, Alice Privett and Alys Roberts. The trumpets cut across the ensemble beautifully in the Gloria. What was most noticeable was the clarity of the diction and the carefully graded dynamics. I particularly enjoyed the duet between Alice Privett and tenor, Richard Dowling; their voices blended well in the Domine Deus.

The second half started with a wonderfully firm account of Credo. The opening two choral movements were energetic with rhythmic vitality. The duet was equally rich with clear text, shaped diligently throughout by the soloists and Jeremy Backhouse. Et incarnatus est and the powerful Crucifixus that followed were controlled and paced with a sense of the tortured harmonies. The chorus excelled here. Et in Spiritum Sanctum was sung effortlessly by baritone Samuel Queen with the obbligato oboes d’amore parts adding a fitting plangent colour.

We were treated to such warmth in the Sanctus and the Osanna was triumphant, showing how well the Vivace Chorus can manage the demands of two-choir singing. The two solos (Benedictus, Agnus Dei) were two poignant and expressive moments following the intensity Backhouse achieved in the previous choral movements, with an impressive flute solo. The final Dona nobis pacem showed all that makes the Vivace Chorus such an enjoyable choir to hear; there was a sense of enjoyment on everyone’s face, committed singing and surprising us all with a strong firm sound until the very last note.

Bravo to the Chorus, soloists, orchestra and particularly to Jeremy Backhouse. It was clearly a labour of love for Bach to compile this complex work and that love was evident in Jeremy’s strong leadership to bring together an enjoyable evening of a great work of the choral repertoire.

15th November, Guildford Cathedral.

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