Sometimes fate plays a winning hand in turning misfortune on its head. So while it was unfortunate that advertised conductor Richard Egarr was ill and unable to direct this week’s performances of Bach’s “B minor Mass”, his place was taken by someone equally capable, if less well known to us, Jonathan Cohen.
SCO: B Minor Mass - City Halls, Glasgow
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It was clear from the start that nothing had been lost from the substitution.
The needle-sharp diction from the SCO Chorus in the opening Kyrie was an immediate signal that this would be a reading of Bach’s epic setting that was gutsy yet refined, flamboyant yet contained, and above all, driven by a sense of informed style.
Cohen bound the forces together with non-dictatorial precision, coaxing such wonderful moments as the triumphant Gloria – resplendent with its cream topping of three trumpets – or the moving simplicity of the Et Incarnatus est with expressive integrity. This wasn’t a Bach performance characterised by incessant high energy, but one that made everything of the light and shade, the sighing motifs, the virtuosic instrumental solos, and the seamless beauty of a work that, rather extraordinarily, was probably never conceived as an entity.
The tempered eloquence of the orchestra was matched by vocal soloists tuned into Cohen’s singular mindset – the pearl-like clarity of soprano Lorna Anderson, if occasionally uncentred on the note; Kitty Whately’s mellow mezzo-soprano, the effortless radiance of tenor Andrew Tortise, and Stephan Loges’ magisterial bass. A moving performance.