By Lawrence Budmen

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor is one of the greatest cultural monuments of Western civilization. The Miami Bach Society celebrated its 20th anniversary on April 24 at First United Methodist Church of South Miami with a stirring traversal of Bach’s ultimate opus under the baton of the organization’s founder Donald Oglesby. The performance was dedicated to the memory of long time Herald music critic James Roos and University of Miami School of Music patron Austin Weeks. The splendid choral and orchestral contribution set new standards for the performance of Bach’s choral-vocal works in South Florida. 

Oglesby directed a robust, agile interpretation that was alive to every subtle nuance of Bach’s multifaceted score. Even in the composer’s sacred works, Bach’s rhythms must dance and Oglesby brought invigorating momentum to every bar while giving full rein to the score’s reverential majesty. The opening Kyrie eleison was marked by the vital, exhilarating singing of the University of Miami Collegium Musicum. Oglesby obtained stylish, marvelously supple playing from the MBS Chamber Orchestra. With a minimum of string vibrato instrumental textures were light and shapely. 

The Gloria was a vital, uplifting affirmation of the music’s inexorable spirit while the ethereal beauty of the Et in terra pax chorale was one of the afternoon’s truly glorious moments. . Clarion trumpets rang out in full cry of Bach’s visionary ode to joy. The solemn Credo and vibrant Sanctus were transcendent affirmations of the work’s spiritual depth. The concluding Dona nobis pacem soared with incredible eloquence under Oglesby’s broadly spacious tempos.

Among the vocal soloists countertenor Steven Rickards was a standout. His unique, plaintive vocal timbre and superb musicianship were the essence of great singing. Maura Cock revealed a bright, appealing soprano voice. Soprano Esther Jane Hardenbergh brought operatic grandeur to her brief solo opportunities. Christopher Cock’s light, attractive tenor voice was not always matched by musical precision. Paul Houghtailing’s fine baritone voice was sometimes inaudible over oboe and trumpet accompaniments. With the dedicated artistry of the large Baroque forces Oglesby’s deeply probing performance of Bach’s masterpiece touched the heights of sublimity. 

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