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The 2017 Cincinnati May Festival Ends with Bach

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jun 14, 2017 - 8:15:43 PM in reviews

The Cincinnati May Festival bid farewell to the Taft Theater Saturday with one of the staples of the choral-orchestral repertoire, the Mass in B Minor BWV 232 by Johann Sebastian Bach.  (It will return to its home in renovated Music Hall in the fall of 2018.)
   Leading the May Festival Chorus (prepared by director of choruses Robert Porco) and five fine soloists was Harry Bicket, artistic director of the English Concert and a noted baroque interpreter.
   The performance was marked by strict adherence to baroque practices, with crisp, rapid tempos and transparent, well-delineated textures.
   The reduced orchestra comprised 26 strings, double winds, three trumpets, timpani and organ continuo for a well-balanced ensemble.
   A strong, affirmative Kyprie opened the concert.  Soprano JoĆ©lle Harvey and mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle joined in a lovely duet with strings in the Christe, followed by a final fugal Kyrie.
   The festive, polyphonic Gloria featured golden-voiced trumpets, including piccolo trumpet performed by acting principal Doug Lindsay.  Joining them was Patrick Schleker, assertive on trumpet, for a truly celebratory effect.
   Acting concert master Kathryn Woolley, soprano Harvey and the CSO strings, with associate principal cello Dan Culnan and principal bass Owen Lee on continuo, created pure beauty out of the lovely, soft-spoken Laudamus te.  Obbligato flutes were heard in the Domine Deus.  The Gratias for full chorus and orchestra, came to a big forte conclusion.
   The Gregorian-inspired Credo was full of dynamic contrasts and beautiful textural expression, as was the translucent ex Maria Virgine, the stern Crucifixus and the exuberant et resurrexit for full orchestra, including oboes and bassoons.
   Et in Spiritum Sanctum with tenor Thomas Cooley also featured full orchestra, with rapturous playing by principal oboe Dwight Parry and Christopher Philpotts on English horn.
   The soft, tripping Confitero unum baptisma led into the softer and slower ex expectans.  Then came a burst of joy by the entire company, including pealing trumpets and pounding timpani, producing great swaths of sound.
   The plaintive Agnus Dei for mezzo Bragle and strings led into a rising line of unison chorus, soloists and orchestra for a joyous Dona nobis pacem conclusion.
   The concert ended with the traditional Hallelujah Chorus (Handel), sung by the Chorus and audience, bring the outstanding 2017 May Festival to a close.