Showing posts with label B Minor Mass. Show all posts
Showing posts with label B Minor Mass. Show all posts

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Singer's Review

By Nigel Tucker

It is always a pleasure to sing in a such a complex work as the Bach Mass in B Minor. The piece holds technical challenges, glorious rhythmic interplay and wonderful soaring passages. But more importantly it demands attention to detail, to the conductor and to the rest of the choir.

In the end we achieved much. All those fiddly fugal parts, which can so easily fall apart, we sang with assurance. The slow sonorous 'Et Incarnatus Est' and 'Crucixifus' were well held and sustained, and the choir seemed at all times well balanced with the orchestra.

Yes, we were a little weak on some of the entries, more due to lack of confidence than technical skill, and the choir did not always watch the conductor sufficiently often to keep well in time (as usual) - especially the basses who got way ahead once and several times wandered along a bit behind everyone else.

The orchestral solo lines were spectacular - the flute, the trumpets, the oboes, the french horn (so that was what David was imitating all those months), and that lovely bassoon - I'd buy a recording just to hear those again.

If I had any complaints, they would have to be a loss of phrasing and dynamics that we had developed so well at rehearsal and lost at performance - quiet movements are so very effective and beautiful - like the 'Dona Nobis Pacem'. The Mass is a piece that demands huge attention to this - otherwise it can descend into a morass of fiddly little notes. As a choir we perhaps need to view the actual performance as one more dress rehearsal. And secondly the text. Bach requires such a high level of rhythmic accuracy and enunciation that these become a huge challenge for larger choirs with many singing voices in each part, and a considerable distance from the conductor, so that the sound for each note spreads out and blurs in music that owes much of its beauty from a tight clock-like precision.

The audience loved it, we loved it, and the orchestra, some of whom seem to have really boring parts, seemed to enjoy themselves. We were well prepared and well turned out and produced a great sound. Well done, Choir - three cheers for live performances and the joy of working together in such a great piece.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Prolonged ovation for triumphant performance

Review of the performance of Bach's Mass in B minor, Dunedin Town Hall, Saturday 16 April 2011, by Elizabeth Bouman (Otago Daily Times, Monday 18 April 2011).

Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor was completed in 1749, and to this day remains a behemoth in large choral repertoire.

On Saturday evening in the Dunedin Town Hall the Mass was presented by 90-member City of Dunedin Choir with Southern Sinfonia and guest soloists soprano Lois Johnston, mezzo-soprano Sarah Court, tenor John Murray and baritone Daniel O'Connor, and conducted by David Burchell.

The choir has been rehearsing since late last year. Like long-distance runners, all were on a high after the experience of training for and completing their marathon, and it is indeed highly exhilarating to negotiate thousands and thousands of notes to reach the final page in triumph.

The audience rewarded with prolonged ovation, having experienced varied satisfaction along the way. Particularly memorable for the bystander were many passages where solo wood-wind, string or brass featured, such as oboe and bassoon highlights in the bass aria Et in Spiritum sanctum and flute obligato in the tenor aria Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

The opening Kyrie eleison was slow to settle, initially presenting rather light and under-defined. The intense melismatic style of this work demands very slick scalic vocal ability, and the clarity of many phrases was slurred and rather blurry, resulting in approximation rather than precision. Consequently, the overall effect often lacked pulse and spritely forward drive, but as the work progressed the big textured choruses were generally exciting, despite accurately intoned soprano top register appearing under-strength.

The best aria for me was the deep rich tone and pleasing legato lines of the mezzo Agnus Dei. The soprano's quality was beautiful, but decidedly lacking in rapport through seldom looking away from the score. The young emerging baritone gave a very creditable performance throughout and the tenor also delivered well.

All thanks and credit should go to the organisers for presenting Bach's famous Mass, giving opportunity for followers of the genre to experience a live performance.

Feedback from the audience

"I really thought the choir and orchestra were amazing last weekend."
- Lois Johnston (Soprano solist)

"Hi, I think David should be well pleased particularly with the choir. A few little issues with timing but you sounded rich and full for many of the choruses. Some excellent solos from some of the orchestra."
- a Friend

"It (the performance) was good enough for the audience to feel the monumental nature of the work."
- a Friend

"We attended the concert on Saturday.  Were unable to hear the Tenor and the Baritone. Second half the Baritone came across more strongly, but alas the Tenor was lost to us. We were not the only ones to comment on this. Four people in our row said the same and during the interval we heard the same. We were sitting front row upstairs."
- Jennifer Hopkinson

David Burchell responds to Jennifer Hopkinson's feedback:
"The hall is problematic for the lower solo voices, though I think they balance better downstairs. It seemed OK in rehearsal - but then the presence of audience and choir changes the acoustic! I am surprised that John was inaudible, though in the duet he had to take care not to overbalance Lois, so it was a tricky issue. The strings were already playing right down..."

"As a member of the choir for many years, it was a pleasure, and an enjoyable experience to be in the audience for the Bach concert, as I had been unable to attend an adequate number of rehearsals. There was a real buzz among the audience who did appreciate what a 'big sing' the work was, everyone I spoke to thought it was a very good performance, and so did I! I thought it was a confident performance, the diction was excellent, and I did enjoy watching everyone's animated faces, mostly eyes were out of music scores, and you did 'sing your hearts out' - bravo!
- Maggie Peake

"I was certainly interested in hearing the Bach B minor Mass again, but last night's performance rekindled an old enthusiasm for the piece. The soloists were good and the orchestra was very fine, but the Dunedin Choir carried the night.

"This won't come as a surprise to you, but David Burchell has had a remarkable influence on your group. The sound is more homogeneous now than it was five years ago, with groups of singers evident more by timbre than volume when their voices have to dominate the sound. That quality really showed in the final part of the Mass, and was a highlight for me. Another highlight was the beautiful blend between the vocal soloists and the instrumentalists who accompanied them. The long, winding, woodwind accompaniments -- which must be the very devil to play -- sounded wonderful."
- a Friend

"It was a fantastic concert and a splendid introduction to the B Minor Mass which I had not heard before."
- a Friend

"It was tremendous. The fugal writing was beautifully clear."
- a Friend

"Brilliant. We loved it."
- a Friend

"Thank you for a marvellous concert. Thoroughly enjoyed it."
- a Friend

"Everyone I have spoken to really enjoyed it. Several hadn't heard it before: "moving" and "beautiful". One commented on David's obvious attempts to slow us down at one point! For the hard of hearing the soprano soloist was hard to make out above the orchestra, was another comment."
- Tree Cocks

"Last Saturday evening, April 16th, the Dunedin audience was treated to one of the world’s most celebrated choral masterpieces, Mass in B minor by JS Bach. Elizabeth Bouman was quite right when she said in the ODT the following Monday that "all thanks and credit should go to the organizers for giving us such an opportunity".

"And what an opportunity it was! The opening Kyrie, with its heartrending plea for mercy, was so beautifully done that it brought tears to my eyes. The more outgoing movements such as the Gloria, Sanctus and the Osanna, stirred the emotions. The soloist instrumentals were exceptionally captivating and blended well with the vocal parts. The entire performance communicated the inspirational nature of this contemplative feast.

"This was truly an exhilarating performance and the audience, including myself, showed their appreciation with prolonged applause. That said it all!"
- Janice Royds

"I was in the audience and really enjoyed the performance. I was speaking with a couple of people around me who were just so grateful to be able to hear this work live. They really appreciated the effort that the choir had gone to to stage this performance. I found it really hard to sit there and not sing. You were all great."
- Heather Brown

We love feedback

The Choir would love to hear from you if you were in the audience on Saturday. Please leave a comment here or email us at

Thank you for your support!

Friday, April 15, 2011

WordWays on Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach
Written by John Hale for his column WordWays, published in the ODT on Thursday 14 April 2011:

At Rehearsals
Bach’s B Minor Mass will be performed on Saturday by the City of Dunedin Choir and the Southern Sinfonia, directed by David Burchell. In moments of respite during strenuous rehearsals, I’ve been wondering what’s in this supreme work for the wordsmith.

Why Latin?
The text is in Latin because Latin was the language of internationalexchange for Western Europe for centuries, till after Newton or Linnaeus (and Bach), and for the Roman church till Vatican II. It was a language of the earliest Christians, along with Greek and Aramaic. A few words and phrases from those other languages, and from classical Hebrew, remain embedded like nuggets in the text of the Mass: respectively, Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), Amen (Truly I say), Osanna (Save now!). Kyrie eleison as archetypal Christian words comes from the gospels.

Singing Latin
Latin is a friendly language to sing in. To see what I mean, compare Bach’s German. It’s hard to sing menschliches Geschlecht mellifluously, whereas Dona nobis pacem comes naturally. I’m not criticising German, only praising Latin for singing, and for the words of the Mass. Bach won’t compromise the
music to help his singers, so be thankful his Latin poses no tongue twisters. It means the singers can relish the long pure vowels, whether sitting snugly on a prolonged Saa–aa-aa-nctus, or doing the semi-quavers helter skelter. Bach gives the singer’s mouth and ears a gratifying work-out. You can use the words to get the rhythms right. He dwells on the words, in loving repetition, variation within repetition. Sounds, words, and meanings are defamiliarized.

No composer surpasses Bach in expressiveness either. The opening Kyries move in strange wide intervals: they yearn and plead. The parts wander around uncertainly at Expecto (“I am waiting” for the life to come). Most obviously, the Crucifixus sings very slowly, moving down to a solemn low close, then we burst out in a high quick contrasting Et Resurrexit (starting in a different rhythm, halfway through a bar). Phew. That close was not the close: the narrative continues. The words imply emotions which the music then expresses. It’s all high drama. A pity Bach didn’t do opera.

These examples mimic meanings of the words, and conjure up the corresponding feelings. Though such word-painting is usual for composers, something singles Bach out. Is it completeness, intensity, or accuracy? Or the ordered beauty and self-replenishing energy?

My first answer to these questions is from the experience of the singing. When the men’s parts sing In gloria, they get some lovely sustained notes (comforting the nerves and resting the tonsils): we pour forth steadily on one note while the ladies’ notes wriggle around rapidly. There’s just time for action and contemplation combined, a sort of energetic trance.

Bach’s conception 
My second answer is about Bach. I actually have no clear conception of what words like glory or holy or bless├Ęd mean. Life doesn’t seem to visit them much. So I can’t call Bach’s settings expressive mimicry, unless one or both of two things is true. Does Bach endow us with his knowledge of glory, a musical radiance? Or does music itself, at certain times, when words must fail, translate the unknown?

Making Sense or Not?
If this rave isn’t making sense but you’re still reading, then as they say, I guess you have to be there; rehearsing, making the music, and feeling it go through you. But Bach will be speaking for himself, in the Dunedin Town Hall, Saturday 16 April, 7:30 pm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bach concert on Saturday!

We are getting very excited now with the Bach Mass in B minor performance coming up on Saturday - yes, 16 April, 7:30 pm in Dunedin Town Hall. Don't miss this performance, it's going to be awesome!

At last night's performance David Burchell, choir director/conductor, was pleased that so much of our rendition sounds so fine. Of course we still worked long and hard on some curly and hairy passages, but no doubt all the kinks will be ironed out by Saturday. We have another two rehearsals to finally polish our performance.

I just love this Mass - it is really very beautiful - and I think if you ask the other choir singers, they'll all agree. My personal favourite is the 'Sanctus'. The higher voices dance along delicately like angels, while the basses provide a booming, solid foundation. The masterful Bach knew just how to combine these opposites into a pleasing whole. Have a listen:

Tickets for this concert are on sale now at Ticketdirect online or at the Regent ticket office - get your ticket now!

Tickets for accompanied school age children are free, and student rush tickets at $10 (must show student ID) are available at the door in the last 30 minutes before the concert starts.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Et in terra pax

Et in terra pax from Bach's Mass in B minor, here beautifully performed by unidentified choir and orchestra. The conductor is Herbert Blomstedt, originally from Sweden. Blomstedt is currently Conductor Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony and Honorary Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, NHK Symphony, Swedish Radio Symphony and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

This is a "preview" for City of Dunedin Choir's concert on 16 April. Don't miss this performance of Bach's delightful, beautiful Mass.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bach Mass in B Minor: Kyrie

This is the second 'Kyrie eleison' (page 26 in the score) - from the 2000 performance of the Mass in B minor (BWV 232) for the conclusion of Bachfest 2000, in honor of the 250th anniversary of the composer's death.

From the St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, Germany
Thomaskantor Georg Christoph Biller (the 16th since Bach)
The Thomanerchor
The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

Friday, January 21, 2011

Monumental Mass from Bach

J.S. Bach
The Mass in B minor (BWV 232) is a musical setting of the complete Latin Mass by Johann Sebastian Bach. The work was one of Bach's last, although much of it was made of music that Bach had composed earlier. Bach assembled the Mass in its present form in 1749, just before his death in 1750.

It was unusual for composers working in the Lutheran tradition to compose a Missa tota (complete mass) and Bach's motivations remain a matter of scholarly debate. The Mass was most probably never performed in totality during Bach's lifetime, and the work largely disappeared in the 18th century. Several performances in the early 19th century, however, sparked a revival both of the piece and the larger rediscovery of Bach's music. Today, it is widely hailed as a monumental work of the late Baroque and is frequently performed.

Bach did not give the work a title; instead, in the score four parts of the Latin Mass are each given their own title page - "Kyrie", "Gloria", "Symbolum Nicaenum" (the profession of faith or Credo), and "Sanctus, Hosanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei" - and simply bundled together. Indeed, the different sections call for different numbers and arrangements of performers, giving rise to the theory that Bach did not ever expect the two-hour-long work to be performed in its entirety. On the other hand, the parts in the manuscript are numbered from 1 to 4, and Bach's usual closing formula (S.D.G = Soli Deo Gloria) is only found at the end of the Dona Nobis Pacem.

The Mass in B minor is widely regarded as one of the supreme achievements of classical music. In the booklet to the recording of "The 'Great Mass' in B minor" by Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent (released from Harmonia Mundi, HML5901614.15, 1999) Alberto Basso summarizes the work as follows:

"The Mass in B minor is the consecration of a whole life: started in 1733 for 'diplomatic' reasons, it was finished in the very last years of Bach's life, when he had already gone blind. This monumental work is a synthesis of every stylistic and technical contribution the Cantor of Leipzig made to music. But it is also the most astounding spiritual encounter between the worlds of Catholic glorification and the Lutheran cult of the cross.".

Source: Wikipedia

City of Dunedin Choir will be performing this monumental mass on 16 April 2011 - mark this date in your diary and keep an eye on our Concerts page for details as these unfold.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bach B Minor Mass on Keys to Music

I've recieved the following message from Scott Blackwell:

Have just listened to a brilliant radio broadcast (on the internet: about the Bach B Minor Mass, the first of three 55-minute shows on the weekly ABC Classic FM programme Keys to Music, with musicologist and music historian Graham Abbott.

Have a look on the ABC page in the "Listen to Recent Programmes" section for the audio for the first show in the series. The second show will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM on Saturday 15 January at 9:05 am.

City of Dunedin Choir will be performing the B Minor Mass on Saturday 16 April 2011. Would you like to join the choir and sing this wonderful music in the April performance? Contact our membership secretary, Loraine, and come to the first 2011 rehearsal on Tuesday 1 February!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bach you should know

A nineteenth century depiction of the Bach family at morning
music practice. Bach is at the keyboard.
I came across this interesting article I'd like to share with you:
Five Bach Pieces You Need To Know by Ben Beers

One of the 5 must-know works is of course:

BWV 232 – B Minor Mass, 'Agnus Dei'

Ben says: "Much of Bach's music was written for the church. The B Minor Mass is one of his more famous ecclesiastical pieces. Although it's in minor key, it certainly isn't depressing or downtrodden - in fact, it's almost therapeutic. The whole piece carries an atmosphere of gentle resignation. A word of warning, however: if you're not experienced with erudite music, it may bore you the first time around. But don't give up. Pay attention to it and listen a few times through, and you'll understand what makes it so important."

That's really interesting. Not being overly experienced with erudite music, that's exactly what I felt when I first listened to the whole of the mass: I was bored. Now that we have started rehearsing this work, I'm discovering Bach's usual genius and I revel in the glorious soaring lines, fugal bits and other bobs. (You can also see I'm not a musicologist - who would ever talk of the 'bits and bobs' of music!?)

Read more at Suite101: Five Bach Pieces You Need To Know

Have you listened to the whole of the B Minor Mass? How did you like it? We love feedback on this blog, so let us know what you think!