Called by his son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, the “Great Catholic Mass”, Bach’s Mass in B minor was originally composed in a somewhat truncated form in 1733, when the death of the Elector of Saxony instigated five months of public mourning that forbade the performance of public music. With time on his hands, Bach composed the bones of the mass as we know it, and ultimately presented it to the dead elector’s successor, who was a Catholic, along with a petition for the position of court composer. For reasons unknown, Bach continued to work on the piece until his death, though it was not widely performed in his lifetime and never as a complete Mass until 1859. Now regarded as one of the finest pieces of sacred music ever written, Bach’s Mass has rightly taken its place in the popular repertory. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and the RIAS Kammerchor joined forces to present Bach’s Mass. Joined by a number of talented singers, the orchestra and choir performed under the direction of Andrea Marcon.

Sophie Harmsen © Günther Komnick
Sophie Harmsen
© Günther Komnick

It was a worthy performance that took place on Sunday night. Andrea Marconand his forces gave a stirring concert of Bach’s masterpiece. The first section, the Kyrie and Gloria, started off elegantly, yet majestically, and set the tone for the rest of the evening. The orchestra, normally enormous, was shrunk down to period size. Excellent performances were given by soloist on flute and oboe, both of which received the audience’s roar of appreciation during the applause.

Adding to the majesty of the orchestra and choir were the solo singers, Robin Johannsen, Roberta Invernizzi, Julian Pregardien and Luca Tittoto. Mezzosoprano Sophie Harmsen made a last-minute appearance, covering for the pair of countertenors unable to perform. Each sang with fine technique and beautiful voices. Especially notable was baritone Luca Tittoto, for his gravelly and passionate voice. Together, they worked well; separately each voice was warm and sweet.

Conductor Andrea Marcon was a joy to watch. He led the music was such gusto and energy that it was hard to remove one’s eyes from him, especially as he gained serious air in some of his jumps. Marcon took care to point out each of the orchestral soloists, too, ensuring that they received their just ovations. The RIAS Kammerchor also gave a joyful performance, never sharp or off-key. It was a pleasure to listen to them.

Ultimately, it was a fine if not heart-stopping performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor. Choir, soloists and orchestra combined to present a lovely evening of sacred music, and it was enjoyable from start to finish.  

**111