Perfect Pitch: That’s a Wrap

by patrickmccoy

Washington Bach Consort ends their 35th anniversary season with “Mass in B Minor.”

By Patrick D. McCoy 

In a recent perfomance of Bach’s “Mass in B Minor,” J. Reilly Lewis conducts soprano Agnes Zsigovics and tenor Robert Petillo in the duet “Domine Deus.” (Photo by Beth Lewis)

There could not have been a more appropriate work to culminate the 35th anniversary season of the Washington Bach Consort than J. S. Bach’s monumental “Mass in B Minor.”  J. Reilly Lewis recently conducted the final concert of the 2012-13 season at National Presbyterian Church. Despite inclement weather, the audience turned out in droves to commemorate the anniversary of this Washington musical institution, which has garnered the support of numerous influential patrons, including His Excellency Jan Matthysen and his wife; both were present and recognized for their support of the consort over the last five years.

The consort was joined by guest artists soprano Agnes Zsigovics and countertenor Steven Rickards. Filling out the solos for the afternoon were consort members Laura Choi, Jon Bruno, Richard Giarusso and Robert Petillo.

The choral voices of the opening “Kyrie” provided the perfect introduction to the subtle grandeur of the work. Followed by a solemn interlude by the orchestra, voices entered in succession in a fugal-like treatment that added even more dramatic depth to the sacred nature of the text. Likewise, the orchestra was the perfect complement to the vocal forces, which in many of Bach’s works often mirror the dexterity and technical execution of the instrumental passages.

The Washington Bach Consort commemorated the 35th anniversary season with a group picture. (Photo by Beth Lewis)

Along with the large choruses of the work, Bach’s towering mass is one that provides an excellent vehicle for the vocal soloists. In “Christe Eleison,” sopranos Agnes Zsigovics and Laura Choi both complemented and contrasted one another, setting up the recapitulation of the original thematic material of the opening “Kyrie.” The aria in “Et in Spiritum Sanctum” was a welcomed showcase for baritone Richard Giarusso.  Consistent in his delivery, Giarusso negotiated the vocal lines with a commanding presence as well as a warmth that was further accentuated by the musical contours of the oboe and bassoon. Countertenor Steven Rickards sang with a rounded, unaffected tone that fared well in the reverent “Agnus Dei.” Tenor Robert Petillo offered a glowing “Benedictus” that was elegantly rendered with a sense of legato and intelligent vocal nuances.

Then, there were the power-packed moments. The “Gloria” was a feast for the brass and timpani of the orchestra, as Lewis brought forth the full arsenal of his ensemble’s artillery. Decadently explosive entrances, precisely delivered vocal lines and the sheer buoyancy of the work were among the many triumphant choral moments. In the “Sanctus,” the combined choir was almost like the voice of God, declaring “ Holy,” then answered by the sopranos and altos, symbolizing heavenly hosts. Appropriately so, the text “heaven and earth are full of thy glory”  was then executed in the manner of a vigorous fugue that was the perfect springboard into the soaring “Osanna in excelsis.”  The final “Dona nobis pacem” was almost like a snapshot of the entire piece, with the onset reverent, ultimately building to a majestic ending.

Recently named among the Forty Under 40 for his contributions to arts and humanities, Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and a M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va.  He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price.  McCoy  has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our  time, including Renée FlemingDenyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.   Listen to these interviews and others  at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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