J. Reilly and his Washington Bach Consort presented a thoroughly professional performance of the Bach B-Minor Mass at the National City Christian Church yesterday. The orchestra was superb, secure in its attacks and solid in its ensemble. The chorus gave Lewis everything he asked for and gave it skillfully.
Conductor Lewis is, first of all, an organist, and this was very much the performance of one who has conquered the problems of Bach articulation on an organ. The chorus sang with instrumental rhythmic strength and with the sort of phrasing most idiomatic to a string section. Long lines such as "et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" were cut into two-note figures. This added immeasurably to the clarity of the texture, particularly in that acoustically difficult hall, but Bach's glorious lyricism was lost along the way.
In general, Lewis' tempos were fast, and worked very well. The opening "Kyrie" had none of the sluggishness one hears so often in the opening of this piece, and the "Sanctus" sparkled in a marvelous evocation of the Old Testament imagery. But somehow, the long and agonizing lines of the "Crucifixus" attained the character of a dance, at that clip something that Bach, the musical romanticist, could never have had in mind.
Soloists Nancy Krohn Young, Marianna Busching, Frederick Urrey, William Kugel and Wayne Jones sang with a fine understanding of the Bach style and with the skill to project it.
This was a cool, cerebral reading of the mass, consistently interesting and with peaks of great excitement. It was not one, however, that plumbed the philosophical depths of what Bach had to say.