About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Resounding in the Church

New York
St. Mary the Virgin Church
03/03/2012 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Mass in B Minor, BMV 232

Sabrina Learman, Susan Consoli (Sopranos), Sara Rose Taylor (Mezzo-soprano), Matthew Anderson (Tenor), Thomas Jones (Baritone)
Arcadia Players, Ian Watson (Artistic Director), The Dessoff Choirs, Christopher Shepard (Conductor)

Dessoff at St. Mary the Virgin (©Coco T. Dawg)

The Dessoff Choirs, among the most respected and eclectic in this chorus-filled city, have given so much pleasure over the years, most recently in music as diverse as Ligeti and Mahler, that their B Minor Mass last night was unnaturally disappointing.

It would be facile to blame this on the highly resonant acoustics in St. Mary the Virgin Church. That lofty edifice, smack in the middle of Times Square, can be a trap for the most well-rehearsed music, and in this case, the echoes of the large Dessoff Choirs and relatively large orchestra, created less a sacred sound than a “Mass”ive blur.

Bach’s own Gothic and Baroque churches probably were no impediment, since he had choruses of no more than 16 voices. While one would like to thing that such a massive work as the B Minor Mass would have called for more resources, he never expected it to be performed in his lifetime. (Nor was it.)

Add to this the speedy, if not brisk tempos in which Christopher Shepherd herded his ensembles. When first hearing Anne-Sophie Mutter play an evening of Bach partitas and sonatas at twice the normal speed, I was stunned, but she later explained it as being the result of “new scholarship” showing that the music of that time was performed with a greater pace than ordinary practice.

Thet could be accepted. But taking the weighty, richly crafted, most majestic Kyrie and Sanctus at Nascar velocity did no credit to the very large group of performers or musicians. At such speeds, lightness and clarity are essential, and here the weight bore them downwards.

To his credit, Ms. Shepard did make did some elegant allowances. To begin the Mass not with the full chorus, but solo singers bringing in the Kyrie was an inspired choice (Possibly even the scholarly correct one.) Allowing the chorus to finish that section was like shedding light gorgeous painting. Then too, in the Con Sanctu Spiritu the chorus finally achieved a staccato, lithe energetic sound which went with the tempo.

Mr. Shepard allowed the modified period-instrument Arcadia Players to show off their soloists at the right time. I was totally taken in by the deep baritone voice of Thomas Jones in the last aria of the first part, with Douglas Lundeen’s valveless horn “duet”. Granted, this instrument is impossible to perfect, certainly not at this tempo, bur Mr. Dundeen gave it that wondrous Baroque sound which put the B Minor Mass in its right period.

The other voices themselves were professional enough. But it was rare that they synced with the Arcadia Players. Perhaps this was due to the sound qualities of the church, where synchrony was difficult to achieve. For whatever reason, the results were far from distinguished.

Rhythmic courage (not headlong swiftness), tonal balance and even lightness, were rarely present here. It might be idolatrous, but I always pictured the B Minor Mass, like Creation, more theatre than church. Mr. Shepard took his chances in this gorgeous edifice, and while Bach survived (t may be the finest choral music in the history of the genre), the swirling results were more fury than sound.

Harry Rolnick



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com