Liberation International Music Festival – Bach B Minor Mass

ST THOMAS’ Roman Catholic Church in Jersey – often called the Island’s Pro-Cathedral… what a good location to hear Bach’s B Minor Mass. The music and the singing rose from the orchestra and performers like clouds of incense and at the end of each movement the music that had just ended seemed almost palpable, like a cloud above the heads of the choir, slowly rising to lose itself in the huge and lofty space below the roof of the transept and nave. The concert must surely be one of the high points of this year’s  Liberation Music Festival in Jersey, an event that has become, in the space of a few years, one of the pivotal cultural events in the Island’s cultural calendar.

The Mass was performed by the Jersey Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Cohen and the singers were from the Hertfordshire Chorus and Jersey Chamber Choir. Soloists were Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Lawrence Zazzo (countertenor), Robert Murray (tenor) and Graeme Danby (bass).

Although selecting individual names for special praise might be invidious, nevertheless the singing of the American counter-tenor, Lawrence Zazzo stands out for special mention – it was a highlight of an evening of highlights. He has been called ‘the king of countertenors’ by the Financial Times and be that right or otherwise, the range of his male soprano voice was arresting and quite outstanding.

Elizabeth Watts’ beautiful soprano voice was  also wonderful to hear; she stood in for Sophie Bevan who was prevented from performing by illness.

The opening of the Mass is the wonderful Kyrie Eleison and from the opening notes the audience sat enthralled.

It might seem something of a Catholic occasion: settings of prayers of a Catholic Mass set to music and sung in a Catholic church, but of course Bach was a Lutheran; the prayers are common to both Catholic and Lutheran traditions. It was, however, dedicated to a Polish Catholic sovereign, Augustus III, and was first performed in 1733 during the festival of the Oath of Allegiance to Augustus following his accession to the Polish throne.

The music is triumphant and transcendant and the orchestra and singers did the music full justice. What an evening!

The performance was sponsored by Henley and Partners. The Liberation International Music Festival continues until Sunday 11 May.