The sublime original-instrument performance of J.S. Bach's B-minor Mass by the American Classical Orchestra and Chorus last Saturday night at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall reminded me that a capacity for new revelations is one of the things that make great music great.
Taken as a whole, the Mass in B minor is one of the Western musical canon's supreme works. Iconic, beautiful, and familiar, available on dozens of different recordings, it is no doubt being performed this holiday season in numerous concert halls around the world. But Thomas Crawford and the American Classical Orchestra, American Classical Orchestra Chorus, and five stellar soloists crafted an original-instrument performance that truly expanded my horizons.
The impressive particulars included an especially strong alto section, noticeable from the very first "Kyrie eleison." Whether the male-heaviness (three men, two women) of this particular alto section had anything to do with its strength, I don't know. And it was just one element of an introductory movement so transporting I found myself wondering how the ensemble would be able to sustain such sonic glory over so many movements to come.
The alto soloist too was male. As David Daniels, one of early music's preeminent countertenors, wove his assured voice tightly with the solo oboe in the "Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris" he evinced a sensitivity of affect as remarkable as his clarity of tone. I've never heard this music sung more beautifully.