Review of the B Minor Mass – 150th Anniversary Concert

Posted on December 2, 2012

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Rehearsals on Sunday afternoon with the Bach Sinfonia

Rehearsals on Sunday afternoon with the Bach Sinfonia

On Sunday, 25th November 2012, the Choir of Christ Church Southgate with the Bach Sinfonia presented Bach’s Mass in B Minor as a glorious concert to end the 150th anniversary celebrations for the building of Christ Church Southgate. This work, finished some 250 years ago, might not seem the most obvious piece to finish a celebration of a 150th anniversary. However it was just as Christ Church was being planned, built and decorated, that the B Minor Mass began to be performed and known in England.Bach is often called the ‘fifth evangelist’ because of his cantatas and other religious music. This sobriquet refers to the fact that, like the gospel writings of the four evangelists, Bach has done much with his music to spread the gospel news in his time and throughout the world since. But if his cantatas, chorales and hymns are sermons to educate, in the B Minor Mass we see Bach enjoying private piety.

Harvey Brink takes a bow at the end of the concert

Harvey Brink takes a bow at the end of the concert

The B Minor Mass has no obvious liturgical use – at over 90 minutes in length, it would be unwieldy for use in a church service. In Bach’s Leipzig congregation the choir by tradition normally only sang the Kyrie and Gloria – the congregation sang the Creed, the Sanctus and the Agnus. Bach would have had no need for a complete choral setting of the Mass in his own congregation. At the time of its writing, only Bach could have enjoyed the splendour and glory of this creation. Perhaps the reason he created it was to enjoy his own relationship with God through musical creation.This concert was a fitting celebration of music at Christ Church, bringing together generations of musicians associated with the parish. The choir, led by Director of Music Harvey Brink, has been learning the work since September during extended Friday evening rehearsals.

Over 300 people were in the audience!

Over 300 people were in the audience!

Kat Gourd, former choral scholar and current choir member, sang a beautiful duet in the ‘Christe eleison’. Eleanor Caine, a former choral scholar, returned to sing in the choir and several of the soprano solos, including the ‘Domine Deus’ with tenor Simon Jerrum and the sinuous ‘Et in unum Dominum’ duet with Ali St-Denis. Noted violinist and parishioner, Adrian Butterfield joined his daughter Florence in the choir, while his wife, Rachel Brown played the flute with the orchestra. Florence sang alto in the semi chorus sections of the Cum Sancto Spiritu while soprano choral scholar Sophie Hammer and long serving member of the choir Clive Woodhouse were singing in the ‘Et in terra pax’. Liz Partridge, a long-time friend of Christ Church, put together an excellent orchestra, which included her husband David Theodore, the oboist. The entire performance had pace and clarity, sharpened by clever conducting by Harvey Brink. The use of reduced forces in the ‘Et incarnatus est’ which featured current choral scholar Mitchell Lloyd in the semi chorus and the ‘Crucifixus’ lead to an explosion of sound in the ‘Et resurrexit’, brilliantly underscoring the joy of the Easter resurrection. The glorious sound reached a large audience of over 300, largely gathered into the church by the herculean efforts of Phillip Dawson.

We have had a wonderful anniversary year for our splendid building, ending with a great act of outreach. Over 300 people heard glorious music written in praise of God – music which may have been written as private pietism, but which has become effective in evangelism.

We are grateful to ‘Unsung’ for contributing this review of our 150th Anniversary Concert to The Spire

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