Bach's Mass in B Minor is one of the pinnacles of Baroque sacred music and a mighty challenge for any choir.

Created during a period of some years at the end of the composer's life, assembled from works already written, it was not heard in its entirety until 74 years after Bach's death. Yet for all this musical patchworking, the score has a remarkable inner cohesion and stands as one of the loftiest testaments of the Christian faith.

I last heard Rita Paczian and Bach Musica NZ perform this work in its entirety 12 years ago; at Sunday's performance, we were denied the 30 minutes or so of its Credo, an excision neither explained nor justified in programme notes.

Apart from the liturgical issue of removing all-important doctrine — is this a mass for non-believers, one was tempted to ask — we missed out on some of Bach's most captivating music including the powerful Crucifixus chorus.


Key arias were also unceremoniously shunted, along with the final rousing chorus - a highlight of this group's 2007 concert - heralding with joyous trumpets and drums the resurrection of the dead and a glorious life to come.

Still, there was no shortage of choral joy, with full orchestral forces fuelling a dancing Gloria, and a pair of Osannas on either side of Andrew Grenon's well-projected Benedictus aria.

Bach's elaborate and winding vocal lines require special artistry. Carefully considered shaping and nuancing are paramount if written notes are to be liberated from the page and this did not always happen.

Catrin Johnsson, however, was exemplary in this respect. The mezzo's extensive experience made for a shapely Qui sedes paired with the burnished oboe d'amore of Alison Dunlop and a moving Agnus Dei accompanied by an impressively disciplined violin unison.

There was discipline too in some solid choral singing that we have come to expect under Paczian's baton, from a sonorous Kyrie eleison to an exhilarating Dona nobis pacem, a plea for peace that, backed up by magnificent trumpets and drums, became more of a demand.

What: Bach Musica NZ
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart