FRINGE REVIEW – JS Bach B Minor Mass

*****

By Jen McGregor

A quick glance through Ludus Baroque’s very informative programme suggests that the B Minor Mass might never have been performed during Bach’s lifetime. If that’s the case, it’s a great shame – it’s a truly beautiful piece of music that every classical music lover should hear. It is performed annually by this Edinburgh-based ensemble to celebrate the start of the Festival, and it is definitely worth attending for any fan of baroque music.

It’s a pity that there are so many parts of Canongate Kirk where the view of the musicians is obscured by pillars, but this is a small complaint. While it is always fascinating to watch an orchestra in action, it is not necessary in order to enjoy the music. Bach’s choral music soars, buoyed up by the Kirk’s gloriously warm acoustics.

There are a few issues with tempo, particularly in the first section of the Mass. The opening felt rushed, which gave a breathless feel to the vocal lines and left the strings and woodwinds sounding muddy and imprecise. The early arias suffered a little from the same problems. However, after the brief interval these issues seemed to have been rectified. Conductor Richard Neville-Towle brings the pace down and allows the music a bit more room to breathe, and the change is remarkable. This is when the piece really takes flights, culminating in an exquisite Sanctus and a devastatingly beautiful Agnus Dei from the standout soloist of the evening, countertenor Tim Mead. By the time we have spent two and a half hours listening to this accomplished ensemble, the imperfections in the opening have been all but forgotten and Ludus Baroque’s status as a Fringe favourite for baroque fans has been cemented for another year.

JS Bach B Minor Mass runs at Canongate Kirk until 8 August at 19.30. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes.

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