B Minor Mass reminds of old glories

Conductor Mary Westbrook-Geha, right, congratulates concertmaster Mayuki Fukuhara after Sunday’s performance of J.S. Bach’s B Minor Mass in Brattleboro. JIM LOWE / STAFF PHOTO

Johann Sebastian Bach’s B Minor Mass on Columbus Day weekend felt like Vermont’s legendary New England Bach Festival, presented from 1969 to 2005 at that time in Marlboro by the Brattleboro Music Center. It was close — and a worthy tribute to founder and conductor Blanche Moyse. On Friday and Sunday, the BMC presented the Blanche Moyse Chorale, Blanche Moyse Memorial Orchestra and four able vocal soloists, all conducted by Mary Westbrook-Geha, in the Mass in B minor at the new BMC Auditorium. Sunday’s fine performance was sold out. Nearly channeling Moyse’s original festival was the “Domine Deus” featuring three NEBF veterans. Soprano Hyunah Yu and tenor Steven Paul Spears delivered this sprightly but lyrical duet with perfectly matched and exquisite lyricism, complemented by the delightfully expressive flute obbligato of Carol Wincenc. Guiding the performance was Westbrook- Geha, Moyse’s longtime mezzo-soprano, reflecting her mentor’s spirit with a new confidence and depth. The 33-voice Blanche Moyse Chorale sounded its best since Moyse died in 2011, with a largely rich and cohesive sound. Under Westbrook- Geha’s direction, it has achieved new clarity and deftness. Deft would also describe the excellent orchestra — eight of whose 26 members were NEBF veterans. Led by longtime NEBF violinist (and former Vermont Symphony Orchestra concertmaster) as concertmaster, Mayuki Fukuhara set the example with his expert playing and visible enthusiasm. Fukuhara’s depth and expressiveness could be heard in his gently propelled lyrical violin obbligato in the “Laudamus te,” as mezzo-soprano Katherine Mysak sang with occasional brashness but real warmth. Mysak was particularly successful, though, when she matched her expressiveness to the expert Yu’s delightfully in the “Et in unum Dominum.” Baritone Nathaniel Sullivan, though he sang well, didn’t have quite the vocal heft to match the obbligato of Julie Landsman, former principal horn of the Metropolitan Opera, in the “Quoniam.” However, his natural expressiveness and warmth gave a joyful quality to the “Et in Spiritum Sanctum.” Joyful would also describe the spirit of the Chorale’s performances of the choruses, though the affect was different — and nearly always appropriate — from one to another. Delivering the grandeur of the opening “Kyrie” and the closing “Dona Nobis Pacem,” the haunting sound of the “Qui tollis peccata mundi,” and the spiritedness of the “Credo,” the chorus sounded great. (Perhaps the “Cum Sancto Spiritu” was a little too spirited.) The most exquisite moment was the “Benedictus.” Tenor Spears’ uniquely seamless lyrical delivery was complemented by the sensitivity of Wincenc’s flute and warm expressiveness of Daire FitGerald’s cello, all supported by Greg Hayes on harpsichord. It was gorgeous, and reminiscent of the Moyse years. In fact, Westbrook- Geha’s B Minor Mass on Sunday was about as good as one can find in Vermont (and that’s saying something). Perhaps the Brattleboro Music Center is developing a new Bach Festival. BRATTLEBORO MUSIC CENTER The Brattleboro Music Center Chamber Series will open with Musicians from Marlboro at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at the BMC Auditorium, 72 Blanche Moyse Way in Brattleboro. For tickets or information, call 257-4523, or go online to www.bmcvt.org.

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