Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
Almost 200 years into its career, the Handel and Haydn Society is still performing like a group of raucous upstarts, infusing the music of the past with pure headlong energy. Friday night's concert, which opened the ensemble's 190th season, was a textbook example of how vital and intense historically informed performances can be in the right hands.
The evening was largely devoted to Mozart, but behind him stood the figures of Bach and Handel. Shortly after arriving in Vienna in 1781, Mozart encountered the music of these two giants of the Baroque era, and its effect on him was profound. He quickly assimilated their then-unfashionable contrapuntal language into his own musical vocabulary. These days we take the assimilation of past styles for granted; in Mozart's time it was quite radical.
One of the end results of this re-education was the Mass in C Minor (K. 427), one of Mozart's two great settings of liturgical texts, the other being the Requiem. It is an exercise in contrasts, alternating grand, imposing choruses with operatic arias.
Music director Grant Llewellyn led a performance that was remarkable for the urgency and momentum that it generated. The whole thing seemed to take place in a single rush of movement, so that all of those contrasts were swept up in the flow. Chorus and orchestra responded not only with energy but precision as well, so that the often dense counterpoint was pinpoint clear. The chorus in particular was outstanding: Its dynamic control in the ''Cum sancto spiritu" fugue was a marvel.
Among the soloists, the young British soprano Sally Matthews was making her Boston debut. She has a wonderful lyric voice: velvety and intense, and with strength throughout its range. But even more impressive than her voice is her musicality: Her phrasing is immaculate and she sings without affect. The highlight came in her rendering of ''Et incarnatus est," heart-stopping aria with obbligato parts for flute, oboe, and bassoon (excellently played by Christopher Krueger, Stephen Hammer, and Andrew Schwartz, respectively). Matthews's voice blended miraculously with the winds, and in its long cadenza both time and space seemed to have been suspended.
Among the other soloists, soprano Amanda Forsythe negotiated the difficult turns of her ''Laudamus te" solo with ease, though her voice can't boast the range of color that Matthews's does, and she was occasionally covered by Matthews during their ''Domine Deus" duet. Tenor Richard Clement and baritone David Kravitz completed the vocal quartet.
Matthews also shined in Handel's ''Ave Regina," an early motet for soprano and chorus. It's a vocal exhibition piece, and she made the most of it, showing off both range and ability. She's an artist on the verge of a great career.
The evening opened with an incisive account of Mozart's Adagio and Fugue in C Minor for strings (K. 546).
A deeply appreciative audience was boisterous in its approval.