The Choral Arts Society inaugurated its 50th-anniversary season Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center with a performance of Bach’s mighty Mass in B Minor, conducted by artistic director Scott Tucker. It was the fifth time since 1971 that the group has performed the work in Washington and offered further evidence that this Bach masterpiece is a crowning achievement of Western civilization.
Despite its considerable heft of some 170 voices, the Choral Arts chorus is a remarkably agile ensemble, boasting a wide dynamic range, sure intonation and clear enunciation. Its rhythmic precision and pellucid sound was the perfect frame for the intricate tapestry of Bach’s counterpoint. Tucker’s exhilarating tempos — brisk and dance-like — were apt and always consistent with contemporary fashion in baroque performance. Interesting artistic choices, such as delegating extended choral passages to the soloists, were refreshing, though some clipped phrasing in the Kyrie and Gloria seemed slightly mannered.
In a work unfolding in 27 movements and just under two hours, the sense of momentum was unflagging. Such pivotal moments as the hushed awe of the Crucifixus followed by an explosive Et resurrexit captured the sweep and grandeur of Bach’s design.
A strong quintet of vocal soloists compensated for some uneven instrumental solos. Soprano Rosa Lamoreaux sang a radiant “Laudamus Te” with her usual grace and refinement, and Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor’s purity of tone and dramatic urgency lent the arias “Qui sedes” and “Agnus Dei” heart-gripping immediacy.
Rucker is a freelance writer.