The Sixteen

With Sarah Connolly's celebrated mezzo and Dietrich Henschel's marvellously variegated bass, Harry Christophers had recruited some impressive talents for his performance of Bach's great B minor Mass. But to sing solo with the Sixteen can be an unforgiving experience. The choir are so wholly at one with the conductor and orchestra in tone and detail that any weakness among the soloists tends to be exposed ruthlessly.

This effect is exacerbated in the Mass, whose solo parts are not intended to allow any significant display of individuality of interpretation or character. After an opening Kyrie section in which the 28-strong choir achieved near-perfect balance – the initiative shifting between the five choral parts with the same fluidity and clarity as the violins and woodwind – Connolly's duet with soprano Gillian Keith for the Christe came as a letdown.

Connolly – among the richest toned of mezzo-sopranos, is still no female alto – practically disappeared beneath the musical surface, while Keith, on fine voice, seemed to pursue an expressive plan of her own making. Robert Murray, a fine young tenor, was also shaky and ill defined in the Benedictus. He combined well with Keith in the Domine Deus, though both were outclassed by the exquisitely layered gesturing of the violins and flutes. Fittingly, Connolly redeemed herself in the stark and angular Agnus Dei, producing a polished cry for mercy that no god (or critic) could possibly fail to be moved by.

Clearly, outside soloists are necessary for performances with most choirs. But with a professional chamber choir such as this, surely Christophers could have done better to draw the solo parts from among his own highly trained singers? Certainly, for me, there was no question that the musical highlight of the concert came in the Credo's central chain of virtuoso chorus. Judging by the thrilled response from the packed auditorium, there was no question for the audience either.

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