The Carmel Bach Festival presented Bach’s B Minor Mass on period instruments with soloists and the Bach Festival Chorale at Sunset Center in Carmel on Sunday, July 17th. Conducted with admirable skill by Paul Goodwin, this masterpiece highlighted and showcased soloists, chorale and instrumentalists. Possibly the intent of Mr. Goodwin was to allow the musicians to shine in the brilliance of Johann Sebastian Bach as each group or soloist achieved solid and inspiring performances.
The opening sounds of the Baroque orchestra were vibrant and energetic. The bass line of the cellos, continuo and basses fully framed the harmonic and rhythmic detail in this magnificent work. Conductor Goodwin kept a clear, simple beat while infusing detail and drama throughout. Ensembles were skillfully coordinated and the chorus and orchestra anticipated these difficult passages through many difficult tempo and key changes with confidence and command of dramatic intent. Many of the final cadences exhibited strength and vitality, as if to pull every moment of beauty from even the most predictable Baroque patterns. Several times during the evening the audience could see the long elegant bells shapes of the Baroque trumpets as they adjusted their instruments during moments they were not playing.
Conductors Andrew Megill and John Coza had prepared the chorus in fine detail. All the subtleties of phrasing sparkled with expressive tone and color while emphasizing the dramatic interpretation of the text. Chorale highlights continued to surprise and delight the eye, ear and heart throughout the evening. The Chorale’s beautifully controlled sound permitted individuality of character and color in each section and the use of straight tone, as if to imitate the orchestra, added much warmth and flexibility. The sopranos’ use of staccato entrances on high notes was flawless and the rhythmic vitality of the mezzo-sopranos, as well as their fine musicianship, powered through many difficult melismatic passages. The tenors’ sound was allowed to ring throughout the evening and the basses added drama, depth and shape to contrapuntal passages. After an entire evening of expressive masterful singing, the chorus yet entered with a new expressive tone color in the final fourth movement of Dona nobis pacem.
Every soloist added perfection to the artistry of the orchestra. Christe eleison by sopranos Mhairi Lawson and Clara Rottsolk had a natural blending of voice and musicianship that was a delight to the ear — and the lilting violin obbligato was elegant and imitated their vocal lines. There was an unmistakable ensemble of two voices uniting and exploring new heights of beauty. Later in the evening Ms. Lawson repeated her natural ability to blend with tenor Thomas Cooley as they coordinated diction, fast melismatic passages while moving easily through the Baroque phrasing in Domine deus (the Baroque flute added sweet sounds throughout). Mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle stylized Agnus Dei with delicacy and vibrancy throughout her range as she gave weight and clarity to low and high notes. Although bass Peter Harvey’s voice was heavier than the other singers, his aria Et in Spiritum Sanctum displayed flexibility and warmth that matched the other singers in every way.
Bach presents musicians with some of the highest musical standards and challenges in technique, interpretation and imagination. Although the B Minor Mass has been performed many times in the 79 years of the Carmel Bach Festival, surely last night was one of the finest performances ever for this annual event. The meticulous endeavor and effort led by Mr. Goodwin to reach the audience with the gift of music was given to all listeners present. The orchestra, soloists and chorale are to be congratulated on their superb human endeavor to create an inspiring and uplifting evening of music to be remembered for many years to come. Thank you Bach Festival!