The Handel and Haydn Society opened its 199th season on Friday with a single work: Bach’s Mass in B Minor. The Mass occupies a prized position: It has only a few serious rivals for greatest work of Western sacred music and so carries an air of being monumental and even a little forbidding.
None of this came to mind during H&H’s transfixing performance, though. What stood out was how vibrant, airy, and even approachable it can sound in the right hands. If performances of the Mass in past decades conveyed an image of humanity laboring under a heavy burden, this one connoted instead a restless search for faith in an uncertain world.