|Bach Marathon at the Royal Albert Hall, reviewed by The Telegraph|
The Telegraph, by Ivan Hewett, 02 Apr 2013
Can one have too much Bach? No, was the answer given by this uplifting, astonishing, exhausting nine-hour extravaganza, which formed the climax of BBC Radio 3’s Baroque season.
It was performed by the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists, a clutch of vocal and instrumental soloists – and the audience, in the Lutheran hymn that ends Bach’s great Easter cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden.
We’ve always thought of Bach as the picture of divine perfection on earth. But we tend to tiptoe round his sacred music, with its embarrassing insistence on sin and suffering and death. John Eliot Gardiner, mastermind of this Marathon and director of the two ensembles at its heart, wasn’t going to stand for such hypocrisy.
He made sure we faced up to the painful awareness of sin in that cantata by talking us through it verse by verse, and showing how Bach’s music turns dry theology into vivid emotional truth. And he placed sacred masterpieces at the day’s beginning and end — the motet Singet dem Herrn and the B minor Mass. Even among the big noisy Preludes and Fugues, played by John Butt on the Albert Hall organ, the sacred appeared, in the form of some beautifully resigned chorale preludes for Eastertide.
It sounds like a recipe for a very penitential nine hours. But there was something uplifting about music which unflinchingly presented the heights and depths of the human condition with such surpassing art. As this day reminded us, Bach achieves that without leaving the sane middle ground of life, expressed in song and dance and an almost operatic sense of drama. The various talks from an invited panel (where Eliot Gardiner and John Butt were the most enlightening speakers) reminded us how human he was.
In their different ways the performers also took Bach down from his pedestal. Joanna MacGregor filled the Goldberg Variations with dancing energy and occasional moments of outright eccentricity, and in a brilliant stroke made the final aria emerge magically from the echoes of the previous piece. Cellist Alban Gerhardt gave the D major solo cello suite a beautiful delicacy, which effortlessly filled the huge spaces of the Albert Hall.
But everything was put in the shade by Eliot Gardiner’s choir and orchestra. The sudden explosion of joy in the “Et Resurrexit” of the B Minor Mass, after the hush of the “Crucifixus”, is still ringing in my ears.
Read on Telegraph website.