This massive work, far too big for any liturgical purpose is generally regarded as Bach’s greatest composition.
Saturday’s performance by the 18 singers and 24 musicians of Collegium Vocale certainly upheld that view, though the ensemble at times had problems with the vastness of the hall. The baroque instruments simply could not generate enough volume to fill the void.
Philippe Herreweghe – who founded the Collegium in 1970 – was precise in his conducting and displayed deep understanding of the work. What most impressed regular Festival-goers was the cohesion of the performers: it was not an orchestra and a choir but a single unit.
The seamless way in which soloists stepped out from the choir as required, merging back effortlessly afterwards was notable. Purity of tone came from the two sopranos and a beauteous Agnus Dei from countertenor Damien Guillon.
The capacity audience erupted into resounding applause at the finale – the lengthiest and most vociferous of the Festival to date.
A memory to be cherished. And for this reviewer at least the highlight of the 2014 International Festival.
Concert: Saturday 16th August 2014 at 7.30pm