Bach Marathon at the Royal Albert Hall
As the final notes of the B Minor Mass ring out and John Elliot Gardiner stands completely motionless for just a second before the Royal Albert Hall erupts into applause, it’s remarkable to remember that this audience and these musicians have been here since midday.
There are very few artists within any medium or genre from any time or place that could keep so many people so engaged for nine full hours, but Bach, naturally, is one of them.
This Bach Marathon concert sees John Elliot Gardiner conduct the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists through Christ lag in Todesbanden (Cantanta for Easter Day) and the masterpiece that is the B Minor Mass. Both are performed with the wonderful richness we’ve come to expect from both ensembles and are a reminder of Gardiner’s exceptional ability to evoke the meaning and personality of each turn in a piece of music. The performance underlines the conductor’s assertion at the beginning of the day that Bach’s choral works do not need any sort of visual dramatisation.
The B Minor Mass in particular is brought magnificently to life by Gardiner’s direction. There is a real sense that, even after having sat through so much music already, the audience is truly with him all the way as he steers the ensembles through the smooth, to the crunching, to the strange and magical in Bach’s music. When we get to that famous melting penultimate chorus of the Credo he truly has the auditorium on the edges of their seats, ready for the explosive triumph of the finale.
Earlier in the day Joanna MacGregor gave us her rendition of the Goldberg Variations: frantic and jazzy one moment, then irresistibly gentle the next. However, her persistently light touch can sometimes frustrate.
We were also treated to an organ recital by John Butt, Partita No. 2 in D Minor by the acclaimed Russian violinist and Bach specialist Viktoria Mullova, and probably the stand-out-performance of the day, the Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, performed by Alban Gerhardt. Alone on the vast and dimly lit stage with the full, almost spiritual attention of the Royal Albert Hall audience, the German cellist displays not only incredible virtuosity with this most intricate and absorbing of pieces, but also tremendous sensitivity in the wonderfully earthy and personal way he interprets Bach’s work.
A truly stirring experience.
Photos: Chris Christodoulou