Monday, March 30, 2015

A window on the infinite

Time stopped briefly yesterday at St. Katherine of Siena Church in Wayne, where the 40 voices and 30 instrumentalists of the Ama Deus Ensemble presented Bach’s Mass in B Minor. If the performance wasn’t exactly thrilling – a word I wouldn’t use to describe this score in any case – it induced a feeling of otherworldly stasis that may be the closest we nonbelievers ever come to heaven.  (And it’s not even my favorite Bach. That award goes to the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin.)

I don’t mean to imply the performance lagged. Conductor Valentin Radu possessed a sure sense of the score’s momentum, which is essential for this long piece to retain interest. The two hours-plus performance time slipped past without a single longeur that I can recall. Sometimes, no matter how much I enjoy a concert, I am happy to get to the end. This was not one of those times.  

The chorus was consistently good, and on occasion, ravishing. In my program, I circled the “Gratius agimus tibi” of the Gloria, indicating the point at which everything seemed to come together.  The final cadence of the Dona Nobis Pacem seemed a risk. Radu held it for almost too long a time – any longer and it would have verged on parody. But in the event, the effect was beautiful and poignant.

Of the vocal soloists, the standout was easily bass-baritone André Courville. The spotty acoustics in the church favored the lower registers, and his voice came through most forcefully. The wind players were also excellent. I was especially taken with David Ross on wooden flute (this was an original-instrument performance), Sara Davol and David Ross on oboe, and R.J. Kelly on the valveless, curlicue horn.

The performance will be repeated Friday at the Kimmel Center.  

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