Reveling in Bach with calm confidence

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / March 21, 2011

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The Cantata Singers and conductor David Hoose didn’t so much present J.S. Bach’s B minor Mass on Friday as take comfort in it. Bach’s epic earned a place in the group’s season, centered around the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, based on Vaughan Williams’s extraordinary regard for it; that regard was made manifest, the performance trusting in the security of Bach’s genius.

Hoose opted for an easygoing sense of tempo; even fast sections had more bounce and swing than drive. The orchestra provided a sound to match: lean but mellow, layers balanced into translucent depth, edges rounded off.

Soloists likewise favored suppleness over sharpness, complementing the dance-like lilt Hoose brought out in accompaniment. Sopranos Karyl Ryczek and Lynn Torgove combined dulcet, avian tones in their “Christe eleison,’’ a downiness carried over into their other singing. Tenor Frank Kelley sang the “Benedictus’’ with decisive elegance; and his “Domine Deus’’ duet with Ryczek was especially terpsichorean, a lithe, limpid pas de deux.

Mezzo-soprano Janna Baty was miscast, forced into a contralto impression that, for the most part, kept her voice too low to bloom; but she laced her “Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris’’ with a kind of theatrically insinuating lyricism that, in turn, set up bass Mark-Andrew Cleveland’s regal suavity in “Quoniam tu solus sanctus.’’ And baritone Dana Whiteside made polished work of his “Et in Spiritum sanctum,’’ long lines shaped with assured purpose and style.

The chorus warmed into superb, poised clarity. Their penchant for specific, saturated colors combined with Hoose’s varied big-picture shapes to map Bach’s nested symmetries, both on the grand scale — the steady, slow-build mountain climb of the opening Kyrie echoed in the closing “Dona nobis pacem’’ — and the local — the sunrise of the Gloria’s “Gratias agimus tibi’’ mirrored in the overcast twilight of “Qui tollis peccata mundi.’’ Again and again precise moods were gracefully refracted. The hushed mystery of the Credo’s “Et incarnatus est’’ returned as calm confidence in the “Confiteor’’; this was a B minor Mass whose center was not the “Crucifixus’’ (here expansive, somber, and restrained) but its transfiguration into the quiet, still opening of “Et expecto resurrectionem.’’

The confidence was the key. It was a portrayal of the consolation of faith, not its insistence, a detailed regard of the ritual rather than an anxious amplification. If you’re sure in your expectation of the resurrection, why not enjoy the wait?

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at

CANTATA SINGERS AND ENSEMBLE David Hoose, music director and conductor

At: Jordan Hall, Friday