Bach's B-minor Mass, one of the great choral works, tends to draw a special audience mix, and Sunday night's performance at the Kennedy Center by Robert Shafer's Oratorio Society of Washington proved no exception. Along with the Bach lovers, choristers of the past, present and future were much in evidence -- young graduates fresh from college choruses, older voices discussing and singing individual lines at intermission, children brought by parents hoping to inspire the next generation.
Shafer and his singers, aided by members of the National Symphony, produced a solid, if sometimes less than inspired, interpretation. An excessively slow and gentle approach to the opening "Kyrie" produced a rather listless start, and the effects were not fully shaken off until after intermission. The second half began with a well-paced "Credo," gracefully and precisely articulated by the chorus, and the momentum carried through to the final "Dona nobis pacem." Shafer drew a particularly lovely, disembodied quality from his ensemble in the ending cadence of the "Crucifixus" and the shifting harmonies of the mysterious "Et expecto" passage.
Though much too restrained in their projection, the quartet of soloists handled their parts with intelligent musicianship. Soprano Elise Kaufman de Caballero displayed sensitive phrasing as well as a clear, sharply focused sound; mezzo-soprano Glenda Maurice sang with a promising richness and warmth; Stanley Cornett contributed an exceptionally sweet tenor line and baritone David Evitts, despite some rhythmic imprecision, revealed a pleasant, open tone.
The performance will be repeated Friday night at 8:30.