Classical music

Review: Hong Kong Sinfonietta in Bach's Mass in B Minor

Conductor Helmuth Rilling brought out the piece's mystery and brilliance, while the chorus of Hong Kong secondary school students showed discipline in the details

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 10:45pm

This performance of J.S. Bach's landmark work by the youthful choristers of the SingFest Choral Academy and 2015 Youth Chorus was a fitting tribute to the German composer's 330th birthday. And if it continues to be sung with such spirit and precision, it may still be performed 330 years from now.

These Hong Kong secondary school students showed discipline in the details. They highlighted the important voices in the intertwining counterpoint and they flew through the semiquaver passages with ease. Sometimes the sopranos tightened up on high notes, but overall the choral sound was expressive and powerful.

Conductor Helmuth Rilling brought out the piece's mystery and brilliance. He caught the relentless pulse of Bach's overlapping phrases and eternally resolving harmonies.

The sinfonietta provided artful backup, with discreet continuo playing by Alan Chu. The high trumpets and timpani were in perfect balance with the ensemble, lending the texture a silver splendour. Flautist Akiyo Uesugi and violinist James Cuddeford both played solos with irresistible charm.

The fine vocal soloists sang with true pitch, shaped the phrases to express the meaning of the words, and didn't obscure the notes with galloping vibrato.

Soprano Julia Sophie Wagner's voice flowed in waves, the high notes seeming to catch the light, the words shaped with intelligence. Tenor Benjamin Glaubitz (pictured with Wagner) spun out his long twisting lines with a pliant tone. Lidia Vinyes Curtis, alto, kept a clarity of sound throughout.

The first bass aria did not project into the hall and the horn and orchestra accompaniment sounded insecure. However, in the aria Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum, bass Tobias Berndt revealed a full, elegant sound with a lilting rhythmic swing.

Rilling slowed and hushed the choir and orchestra, enveloping the hall in gloom. The choir basses were in the spotlight with a difficult passage that they nailed, which was like watching a sports team win the championship.

Alexis Alrich

Hong Kong Sinfonietta City Hall Concert Hall

Reviewed: August 8