Tafelmusik Bach Mass in B Minor

Tonight I heard the first of five performances to be given of JS Bach’s Mass in B Minor by Tafelmusik (four at Jeanne Lamon Hall in Trinity St Paul’s Centre, April 5-8 inclusive, and one more at the George Weston Recital Hall on the 10th).

It’s not the fastest nor the slowest you’d ever hear. But it’s remarkably meaningful, intelligible, music and words connected.


Ivars Taurins (photo: Sian Richards)

Ivars Taurins offers his usual thorough scholarly exploration of the score, leading the orchestra & their chamber choir. I’d like to think we were hearing something that JS Bach might have enjoyed had he been there in the church space to hear and see. A generation or two ago, one would encounter something bigger and fatter, both in the choral forces and especially in the orchestration, and usually at a glacial pace.  Sometimes the leaner meaner approach of a historically accurate performance style –like the one often favored by Tafelmusik–can get so quick as to lose touch with the text being expressed.  While I love those big climaxes as much as the next person, they can be achieved with a moderate sized ensemble raising the roof in a lovely little space, such as what we heard on this occasion.

Tonight’s was just right.

The five soloists gave us excellent work. I was especially moved by the simplicity of tenor Charles Daniels, who showed me how this should be sung, Bach being one of the most difficult composers to sing right. He made it look easy, but I don’t want to underestimate what he accomplished, a deceptive ease that is the product of great artistry. Daniels floated up to the high notes, sometimes very delicate, sometimes forthright, but never pushing, and always perfectly in tune & matching the text being expressed. He is a genuine student of the work, immersed in the score all night except when he had to come forward to sing.  Less is more.

Laura Pudwell’s colour shone brightly without ever going beyond a mezzo-forte , the picture of restraint and elegance in her fluid delivery.

Laura Pudwell PHOTO

Mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell

Soprano Dorothee Mields is new to me, but I enjoyed watching her both in her solo work or when she gazed about her enthusiastically at the chorus and orchestra at work.

Baritone Tyler Duncan brought his burnished sound, especially effective in the “Quoniam tu solus sanctus”, a solo aria where his low voice, accompanied by the lower orchestral sounds (string bass, bassoon, horn) remarks that Jesus only is the most high, a moment of wonderful humanity.

But the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir were the real stars, especially in the second part of the program, when the fireworks really happen. In the “Symbolum Nicenum”, we get the parts of the Nicene Creed. It’s one thing to speak this solemnly in church, but Bach dramatizes this profession of faith, so that we’re given a miniature Biblical epic, complete with Jesus’s birth, crucifixion, death, and glorious resurrection.

At the apt moments the chorus and orchestra erupt in celebratory glory. Coming at the climax of the Christian Year, Bach’s Mass is an overwhelming experience, with a proper focus on the text and its meaning, rather than virtuosity and display for its own sake.

And I think JS would have approved.

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6 Responses to Tafelmusik Bach Mass in B Minor

  1. Mervyn Doctorow says:

    please tell me if i must reserve for Mass!
    i’m a disabled senior.
    is it just tonight, Sat,?

    • barczablog says:

      There are performances Saturday night and Sunday afternoon downtown, plus another one at George Weston Recital Hall in North York Tuesday April 10th.

      Here’s what Tafelmusik’s website says.
      [re: downtown] Almost sold-out: 97% sold. Call for restricted-view seat availability.
      Thu Apr 5, Fri Apr 6, Sat Apr 7, 2018 at 8pm, Sun Apr 8 at 3:30pm Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Call (416) 964-6337 Map

      [re: George Weston Recital Hall] Selling fast! Already 70% sold Tue Apr 10, 2018 at 8pm George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Call 1 (855) 985-2787

      You can also see this on their website at

  2. Richard Rix says:

    Your review enhanced my enjoyment of the concert the following night. I found it both solemn and joyful as well as beautifully paced and thoughtfully performed in its entirety.
    Perhaps in an effort to bring more gravitas the orchestra traded one violin for a second cello in the performance I saw. It was probably more noticeable to me for I was seated above the bass section (I can vouch for the excellent work and mostly measured restraint of bassist Thibault Bertin-Maghit!), but I rather feel the extra violin was missed. Since the composition is not particularly virtuosic, the need might readily have been fulfilled. Perhaps that will change at George Weston.
    Thank you again.

    • barczablog says:

      Thanks for the interesting response. And speaking of trade-offs, I love the sacred overtones of the Trinity St Paul’s church space, but my my, George Weston sound is superb. Enjoy!

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