Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’ from the Choir of St James’

The Choir of St James’ King Street presents the Mass in B Minor BWV 232 by J S Bach later this month. Soprano Greta Bradman, mezzo-soprano Sally Anne Russell and tenor Thomas Hobbs join the 15 strong choir that is a smaller than usual ensemble expected in a performance of this demanding and complex tour de force.

Although it is a complete setting of the Latin mass by this Lutheran composer and despite its status in the choral repertoire, it is unlikely that Bach composed this mass as a stand alone work. Rather, it is a composite of his music of uncertain chronology, assembled between 1747 and 1749. During the 1740s, Bach wrote movements to complete the work. His handwriting in these late manuscripts indicate his failing health and eyesight. He died in 1750.

It is unlikely that Bach heard the Mass in B Minor in its entirety. If he had, would he have realised what he had achieved in creating sheer power and pathos, drama and beauty through music? It’s hard to pick a single highlight amongst the movements – the unbridled joy of the Gloria, the transcendental Sanctus with its descending octaves linking heaven and earth, or the exquisite gravitas of the final Dona Nobis Pacem.

Conducting the ensemble of soloists, choir and orchestra is Warren Trevelyan-Jones, Head of Music at St James’, and previously a Lay Vicar at Westminster Abbey in the UK. He observes: “There are a handful of musicians in Australia who can perform the B Minor Mass to this standard. Now Sydney audiences have the rare chance to hear it performed live, right in the heart of their city.”

Supporting the performance, the St James’ Institute will present a seminar of theological and historical insights on September 11, featuring guest speaker Dr Andreas Loewe, incoming Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

Sally-Anne Russell, mezzo-soprano

Both Sally – Anne Russell and Greta Bradman are well known to Sydney audiences for their performances here as well as their recordings. Tenor Thomas Hobbs is based in London where he has performed and recorded with many leading ensembles, amongst them The Cardinall’s Musick, The Tallis Scholars, I Fagiolini, Consortium, The Sixteen, Polyphony, Ensemble Plus Ultra and Ex-Cathedra. He has recorded the B Minor Mass as tenor soloist with both Collegium Vocale Gent and the Dunedin Consort.

With a history of  nearly two centuries, the Choir of St James’ is one of Australia’s oldest and most highly regarded music ensembles. Indeed, some of its early members were convicts. Today, the choir consists of around a dozen professional adult singers. The choir presents an annual series of six major concerts featuring large and small choral works, specialist soloists and instrumentalists. As well, the choir sings weekly Choral Eucharist, Evensong, at private functions and regularly provides music for special state services.

The choir broadcasts regularly on ABC Radio and on Fine Music 102.5 and is currently recording its fourth CD ‘Metamorphosis’. Recent collaborations have featured leading ensembles such as Australian Baroque Brass, Ironwood and musicians drawn from the Sydney Symphony and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. The choir regularly tours to regional centres such as Bowral, Goulburn and Bathurst and has commissioned and premiered a number of new works  from Australian composers. Highlights for 2012 include workshops with members of the Tallis Scholars, The King’s Singers and the Hilliard Ensemble.

Tickets: $44-48.

Bookings at,

                  call (02) 8256 2222 or in person at the Box Office 2, Angel Place Sydney,

                  or at the door.

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