The jury is still out as to whether Johann Sebastian Bach ever intended his Mass in B Minor to be heard in the "complete" form as we know it today. What exactly hath Bach wrought? Certainly not a liturgical work. The mass is far too sprawling, far too ornate for use in a traditional church service.
Regardless, it stands as one of the most powerful, spiritually uplifting mass settings in music history. The Paul Hill Chorale and Orchestra's magnificent presentation of the B Minor Mass at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall yesterday afternoon showed why it transcends denominationalism, and functions as a universal affirmation of Christian faith.
Bach's glorious choruses predominate. Gargantuan fugues and canons slowly unfurl like richly tapestried banners of devotion. The chorale plunged into the opening Kyrie with precision and punch. In their finest moments, they intoned the unearthly whispers of the Credo's "Et incarnatus est," then proceeded into the descending minor strains of the "Crucifixus" before finally erupting into the triumphant major melody of the "Et resurrexit."
Conductor Paul Hill was a whirlwind of activity on the podium, preserving a taut ensemble. The strings and winds played with exemplary flair; keyboardists J. Reilly Lewis and Sondra Proctor filled in the essential continuo parts on harpsichord and organ respectively.
Featured vocalists soprano Sondra Harnes and mezzo-soprano Marianna Busching turned in a splendid rendition of the Credo's duet while tenor Stanley Cornett's aria in the Osanna was forceful, yet touching.
Fortunate is he that heareth the Mass in B Minor. Especially when the performing group is the Paul Hill Chorale and Orchestra.