The name Gaechinger Cantorey might strike Baroque music enthusiasts as a typo. In fact, as of this season, it is the new spelling of Gaechinger Kantorei, the pioneering choral group founded by Helmuth Rilling in 1954 near the beginning of the post-World War II baroque boom and led since 2013 by Hans-Christoph Rademann.
Because of a reorganization under the umbrella of the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart, the name Gaechinger Cantorey now includes both the choir and what’s billed as a “newly formed” Baroque orchestra. They came to Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday night to perform J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor, itself a compendium of pieces that Bach put together over a long span near the end of his life. (Gaechinger Cantorey then played Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Wednesday.)
But really, it doesn’t matter how you spell it or how the groups are packaged. This performance was, more often than not, a spellbinder.
For a piece now considered to be a summation of a lifetime of contrapuntal mastery and spiritual depth, it is astonishing to realize that Bach probably never had any intention of having it performed. Not until the middle of the 19th century did it get an entire hearing at a concert. Moreover, it is a mashup of styles and instrumental and vocal configurations that somehow comes together as a unified, if lengthy, whole.
Rademann — who led with vigorous gestures, almost levitating from the podium in a few energized passages — figured out ways to make the Mass flow with even greater unity and force. One key passage was after the transition between the last two numbers of the Gloria, which the choir just ripped into with gusto and thrilling contrapuntal singing. Here, the score suggests such a seamless segue, and Rademann did it again just before the end of the Credo, the choir exploding with joy after wallowing in the depths.
It was the sky-high quality and responsiveness of the 31-voice Gaechinger Cantorey choir that made this performance soar, more so than the serviceable period-instrument orchestra. The rich choral sound was staggeringly clear in the Disney Hall acoustics, the counterpoint there for all to hear, and you could sense the performance taking on added verve and rhythmic definition whenever the choir came in over the instruments. The wind and brass soloists in the orchestra, though, were of good quality, and in the case of Ulrich Hübner — who negotiated a difficult solo in the Gloria on a valveless natural horn — heroic.
The most pleasing among the vocal soloists was the richly upholstered voice of mezzo-soprano of Roxana Constantinescu, who also blended well with soprano Regula Mühlemann. There were two contrasting tenors on hand — Jakob Pilgram for the duet with Mühlemann in the Gloria and the far more plaintive Benedikt Kristjánsson in the Benedictus (yet another Icelandic visitor to Disney Hall one day after the Reykjavik Festival closed). Veteran baritone Peter Harvey, who sang in the B-Minor Mass at the Carmel Bach Festival last July, had some trouble in the lower range of his solo spot in the Gloria but made a mellifluous showing in the Credo.
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