The downstairs section of the Queen’s Hall is packed for tonight’s performance by the Dunedin Consort. Indeed, the demand appears to have caught the Queen’s Hall by surprise, as they have run out of programmes! Of course, the Dunedin have a great track record for performing and recording Bach, and this performance will be recorded and released later in the year. John Butt, the Dunedin’s conductor, is also a leading authority on Bach. His totally secure conducting from the organ ensures the ten singers and twenty musicians who made up the Dunedin tonight are in perfect harmony
Bach’s Mass in B Minor, John Butt argues in his very good programme notes, is Bach’s most spectacular choral work. John Eliot-Gardener, another great Bach conductor, calls it “the Everest of Bach”. Yet, as John Butt explains, it was actually made up of many different pre-existing works, with only some additional original material. Given how prolific Bach was, perhaps this is not surprising, and indeed such “recycling” was a fairly common practice amongst composers of the period. What makes it special, John Butt suggests, is the quality and variety of the music, and this is what tonight’s performance demonstrates: wonderful arias, superbly sung by a very talented group of solo singers (who are also part of the splendid chorus), and wonderful music, played by great musicians, who produce a sound that seems much greater than the sum of their parts.
The soloists are all of a high quality, in particular Nicholas Mulroy (tenor), a long time favourite with the Dunedin, backed up by Thomas Hobbs (tenor) and the excellent baritone, Mathias Helm. The women are also excellent, in particular Anna Dennis (soprano), backed up by Ciara Hendrick (mezzo soprano) and contralto, Jess Dandy. The other singers are also very good, and they produce a big sound in the Queen’s Hall acoustic, yet the words are still very clear.
The Dunedin musicians are superb as usual—excellent strings backed up by strong period brass instruments and lovely wind playing, and in particular, a fine flute solo by Katy Bircher. The Dunedin never produce a disappointing performance, and no doubt this recording will be another award winner. An indication of the quality of the Dunedin is that after tonight’s performance, its next outing will be at the Wigmore Hall: the premiere chamber music venue in the world!