The virtue best suited to a performance of Bach's Mass in B minor is humility. This quality is not often prized in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, where a certain swagger (or, more politely, showmanship) usually seems appropriate. But for this music, which deals with timeless questions at a level of greatness beyond the reach of any performance, a conscientious performer can have no other approach.
J. Reilly Lewis and the conscientious musicians of his Washington Bach Consort found exactly the right tone, as might be expected of a group that has been immersed in the master's works for nearly 10 years. Their musicianship was solid without ever seeking to be spectacular beyond the music's demands. Soloists too numerous to name stepped out of the chorus or orchestra for moments of glory, performed beautifully and stepped humbly back.
In an era and a concert hall where people with big names often use music for their own purposes, it was refreshing to see such highly developed skill so completely and selflessly devoted to the service of the music. This attitude could not have been applied to a more appropriate work, and the results were deeply satisfying and musically impressive.