The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of April 8, 2001.
Thursday in St. John's Cathedral Roger Melone led members of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a vigorous performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor, one of the great works of all time.
Its two-hour length made in unsuitable for inclusion in any religious service.
As if Bach's eye were on posterity, the B Minor Mass stands as a summation not only of his own work but also of all the styles accessible at his time in history. These ranged from the purity of High Renaissance counterpoint to the operatic drama in fashion at the contemporary court and theater. He even borrowed from himself, a common practice of the period known as parody, in which old music was reworked to fit a new context.
Whatever that purpose, the music speaks at a deep level that transcends both time and doctrine.
For Friday's concert Melone solidly prepared some 40 of his NMSO Chorus members, who gave a consistently intelligent and dedicated performance. The polished quartet of soloists included Patti Spain from Houston; counter-tenor Foster Sommerlad from Dallas, substituting for an ailing Dale Terbeek; tenor Alan Bennett from Bloomington, Ind.; and bass David Grogan from Marshall, Texas.
Spain and Sommerlad were both in exceptionally fine voice, finding a superb blend and fluid shaping for their duets, from the initial ``Christe eleison'' on. Spain, a familiar NMSO soloist, consistently delivered pointed lines, expressively and vocally focused, finding space even when crowded by an overly rigid beat.
Sommerlad revealed a distinctive vocal sound, tender and pure, yet charged with vibrant energy. The radiance of his ``Agnus Dei'' passages touched the right inner chord before the concluding choral glory of the ``Dona Nobis Pacem.''
Melone held his forces together with a firm beat and clear direction, unflaggingly driving the performance through to the end. This relentless forward motion often left layers untouched with brittle emotional results, as expressive weight was sacrificed to forward drive. When the music was given more supple space, as in the ``Et incarnatus est,'' it spoke powerfully.
The orchestra contributed many vivid passages ranging from the gentle flow of Valerie Potter's flute solos to the magnificence generated by the trumpet section and timpanist Douglas Cardwell.