Perfect Pitch: Beloved Standard

by patrickmccoy

The Washington Bach Consort ends its season with the “Mass in B Minor.”

By Patrick D. McCoy


Musical season of the Washington Bach Consort ended with a performance of the grand-scaled “Mass in B Minor.”    (Photo courtesy Washington Bach Consort)

Bach’s expansive “Mass in B Minor” is one of those choral masterpieces that offers a new perspective each time you hear it. Whether it is performed with large symphonic forces or the intimacy of a smaller ensemble, there always seems to be a unique aspect of the performance.  Consort founder and conductor  J.Reilly Lewis led the Washington Bach Consort in “Mass in B Minor” at its final concert of the season at the National Presbyterian Church. The vastness of the space projected a large concert hall feel, yet there was still a palpable closeness between the audience and performers, especially in the opening of ‘Kyrie’ with the entrances of the individual sections of the choir.

There is a lot to listen to in this massive masterpiece, from large movements for the chorus to solos and duets. The hallmark gems of this particular performance were certainly the choral movements and showpieces for the individual soloists. In the aria “Qui sedes ad dextram patris” countertenor Chris Dudley sang with an impressive agility and warmth,  as the audience listened with rapt attention. Soprano Laura Choi Stuart’s vocal dexterity shined in the “Laudamus te.” Together with concertmaster Andrew Fouts, the two created a lovely duet as the movement soared to a place of exaltation. Bass Steven Combs’ rendering of the “Et in spiritum sanctum” was full of remarkable presence, exuding a reverent confidence.

The brass section of the orchestra was essential, especially in “Gloria in Excelsis” and the “Sanctus.” Punctuated by the precise timpani played by Michele Humphries, the combination brought forth a regal majesty on which the voices and strings were anchored. Maestro Lewis seemed to move the performance along with a brisk tempo and many contrasting elements that made this an engaging performance. A wide range of vocal depth and emotion came through in the dark, quiet intensity of the “Crucifixus” showcasing the consort’s sense of exquisite control at a soft dynamic.

Building to a triumphant ending, Lewis led the consort in the final “Dona Nobis Pacem.” With each voice entering in succession, the chorus swelled to a full forte, bringing the monumental work to its close.  Performances like this affirm why choral masterpieces are revered and repeated time and time again. Variety marked by stylistic contrast and musical panache contributed to a glorious season-ending concert.

After earning degrees in music from Virginia State University and Shenandoah University, Patrick D. McCoy has contributed arts pieces to CBS Washington and The Afro-American Newspaper, among others.  He also writes the magazine’s monthly performing arts column “Perfect Pitch.”  McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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