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Back Bay Chorale looks small, plays big

Reprinted from early editions of yesterday's Globe.

CAMBRIDGE -- Now in his second season as music director of the Back Bay Chorale, Scott Allen Jarrett seems determined to reposition his ensemble in the shifting hierarchy of area choruses, presumably in a place near the summit, if not on it.

He -- and they -- are on the way. Technically the standard of last Friday night's performance of Beethoven's challenging ``Missa Solemnis" was high. The chorus ran the hurdles accurately, with quality sound from soprano to bass. Nobody screamed, and there were many nuances of color and dynamics. The singers were secure enough to go for broke, which is essential in this work, yet they could also pull back for quietly intense delivery of the less turbulent sections.

The orchestra of Emmanuel Music was smaller than what one usually hears in this work, but one never felt the absence of sheer numbers, and the group played with chamber-music virtues of individuality and ensemble. Concertmaster Danielle Maddon played the long solo in the Benedictus with a sweet, consoling timbre.

Solo bass Richard Zeller sang with imposing sound moderated by musical sensitivity, and Gigi Mitchell-Velasco brought a velvety sound to the quieter sections of the solo alto part and passion to the supplications. Tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan was just about ideal, pouring out handsome tone that mingled sweetness with power.

The Wagnerian potential of Missouri soprano Amanda Mace, not yet 30, has been creating a buzz. She has a clear voice of exceptional power that she is still figuring out how to use. Issues of intonation and support cloud her work; a more serious matter is that she vocalized most of her part on the vowel ``ah," basically eliminating the text. She needs to learn how to sing the music on each of the other vowels, then punctuate them with some consonants. Yes, this is harder for high voices, but Manucharyan delivered the word flawlessly, so Mace can too if she puts her mind to it.

The ``Missa Solemnis" was previously heard this season in performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus under James Levine . The Back Bay Chorale's was more modest, but not less ambitious.

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