Review: Mass in B minor, Gabrieli Consort & Players, Snape Maltings, March 30

Gabrieli who were part of Snape's Easter Weekend music programme. Photo: Andy Staples

Gabrieli who were part of Snape's Easter Weekend music programme. Photo: Andy Staples - Credit: Archant

The Mass in B minor is one of those enduring pinnacles of musical, indeed human achievement that when performed as superbly as on this occasion becomes a completely transformative experience.

Judith LeGrove’s thoughtful programme note focused on the Mass as a supreme example of Bach’s ability, in older age, to consider, evaluate and refashion work composed earlier. Yet the end product is so much more than mere recycling; there is renewed creativity and ever-present craft but allied to the wisdom of experience.

Few individuals are as well equipped to direct a performance as Paul McCreesh, who founded the Gabrieli Consort & Players in 1982 and remains their artistic director. Extensive world tours and several award-winning recordings are just the most obvious achievements of this talented and dynamic group.

The Mass is written for six parts, sopranos and altos each split into two, along with tenor and bass and here each line was taken by three singers – 18 voices in all. Yet a full and thrilling sound soared to the back row of the Maltings with ease. Nor did any of the five soloists from within the group have the slightest difficulty in reaching every corner. Orchestral forces were modest, and the balance and blending of instrument and voice was impeccable.

The large-scale Kyrie had a weighty authority, everything fitted seamlessly and contributed to a steady onward momentum. An excellent horn solo in the Gloria led into the final Cum Sancto Spirito, performed with stunning virtuosity and bringing the first half to a rousing conclusion.

There was beautiful playing from the oboes in the Et in Spiritum of the Credo and another superb vocal demonstration to conclude the movement with its dramatic end. The Sanctus, for many the supreme part of the Mass, rang out joyously, the trumpets were thrilling and our hearts soared. There was an outstanding flute contribution in the Benedictus and the polished contributions of all instrumentalists should be praised.

However, the ultimate accolade must go to conductor Paul McCreesh, imposing and authoritative, who directed a truly magnificent and memorable performance.

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Gareth Jones