Boston Cecilia makes a birthday present of the B-minor Mass

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Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor, a summation of his vocal mastery that he completed the year before his death, was not performed in his lifetime, but it never wants for champions in Boston. The Cantata Singers and Emmanuel Music did it in 2011; the Handel and Haydn Society offered performances last September. Friday at Jordan Hall, on the 329th anniversary of the composer’s birthday, the Boston Cecilia weighed in with a reading that deserves a place in the regular line-up.

It was clear from the reduced orchestra—27 members—that this was going to be a modern, slimmed-down interpretation, and music director Nicholas White’s tempos turned out to be not very different from those favored by Handel and Haydn artistic director Harry Christophers. The chorus, however, numbered 62, including the eight soloists (who sang throughout), and for this performance that was ideal. I was initially alarmed at the way the singers bit off the syllables of the Kyrie, but the very precise enunciation proved a blessing, as virtually every word of the choral sections was intelligible. The “Crucifixus” was passed from one area of the chorus to another in a horrified whisper before everyone exploded into the “Et resurrexit.” The sound throughout was massive but pellucid, and White with his long-arcing phrases built a hypnotic fervor, breaking the spell only with beautifully judged cadences.

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