Friday 31 July 2009

Prom 17

On Tuesday we went to the Late Night Prom which featured Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir performing four of Bach's motets - Komm,Jesu, Komm, Fürchte dich nicht, Jesu, meine Freude and Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied.

Now we know very little about the original forces for which these pieces were written. At least two of them seem to date from his Weimar years and current scholarship discounts some of the information that we once took for granted, such as the idea that Jesu, meine Freude was written for the funeral of the widow of the former post-master of Leipzig. One major problem is that few original manuscripts survive; though there is a limited amount of information that on at least one occasion Bach used instruments with the voices. Thus conductors are at liberty to make their own decisions, with even more freedom than usual.

On this occasion Gardiner used a choir of some 38 singers (with a mixture of men and women on the alto part). They were supported by a continuo department consisting of organ, 2 cellos, bassoon and double bass. The bassoon and one of the cellos sometimes alternated, but frankly in the depths of the Albert Hall I could not detect that much change in timbre. To counter the largeness of the ensemble, Gardiner encouraged his singers to sing lightly and fleetly. This was a performance notable for the wonderful lightness and flexibility of the vocal lines. The choir really belied its size and acted light a far smaller group.

This was coupled with a steadiness, almost slowness of speed. Having recently sung in Jesu, meine Freude I was surprised at how slow Gardiner took some of the fast movements. His speeds seemed to be aimed at clarity and expressiveness in the larger space, but what was removed from the performance the sense of virtuoso, bravura singing. The motets are tricky pieces and all have fast passagework sections which would seem to need bringing off with bravura - here they were more understated, as if subdued to the piece's spirituality.

These were wonderful performances of great pieces (in a sense you can never fail with the Bach motets). But my ideal performance would have used far fewer singers, with a far stronger sense of line and a feeling for the dazzling bravura of the pieces.


  1. i like Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Albums

  2. I've gotta tell you, you are spot on. I stumbled on your site from another link and am really interested in this topic. Do you mind if I link to this site from my blog?

  3. Sometimes I just think that people write and dont really have much to say. Not so here. You definitely have something to say and you say it with style, my man! You sure do have an interesting way of drawing people in, what with your videos and your words. Youve got quite a one-two punch for a blog!
    miami new car search


Popular Posts this month