Bathed in yellow light on a misty evening in October, the stunning architecture of Canterbury Cathedral holds something of a magical gravitas. Centuries of culture and learning centre on this small city in Kent, and this year’s Canterbury Festival has once again been a celebration of the quality and variety of talent in the area. The Canterbury Choral Society has a reputation for delivering outstanding performances, and so were the perfect choice for this year’s festival finale: Bach’s Mass in B Minor, with the period instrument London Handel Orchestra.
The Mass in B minor evolved over many years in various sections, some of which Bach himself directed, but it was only put together as the complete Mass during the 100 years after his death. Despite this, it weaves together into a challenging composition, overwhelmingly complex and architecturally expansive. Consisting of 27 sections, it’s not only the backstory that is enigmatic: there is plenty to explore throughout the piece. This performance, conducted by Richard Cooke, was softer, less spacious, yet still with flashes of triumph. Vibrant choruses of majesty and solemn antique plainchant both added pleasing variation to the evocative, lingering, slow vocal and instrumental lines, rousing the packed out audience. Particular appreciation has to to counter tenor David Allsopp whose voice was whole and emotive, carrying through the arches of the building in a towering fashion.
We’ll never know exactly how Bach wanted his piece to be performed, but as the mist of Halloween hovered outside, the majesty of the music reigned supreme in here, and the festival finished with grace and grandeur.