28/7/09, Royal Albert Hall (Prom)
1 hr 20 mins. Late-night Prom with John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir plus soloists (chamber organ, double bass, two cellos, bassoon). Too late for me: this kind of music needs concentration which is hard to summon at ten pm; I kept falling asleep, left with a general impression of tuneful noise.
Thirty-eight singers, four motets, three of them with split choirs placed either side of the organ; the third a single choir (though six of the women dropped out for part of it, and there was a beautiful section for tenor, bass and soprano.
The motet was apparently a more old fashioned form than the cantata, for which Bach is best known. Cantatas include instrumental passages, solo singers and a lot more colour and variation. Some of his more puritan contemporaries deplored cantatas as excessively "operatic". But they were more involving, more emotionally rewarding apparently than motets.
I'm not qualified to judge. All of these seemed to me pretty sophisticated works. When Petroc Trelawny came on stage for the Radio 3 intro he interviewed Gardiner and asked if it was "too simple to say Bach's motets were unsophisticated" Gardiner replied flatly "It's wrong": that got a laugh.
I remain impressed by Bach rather than moved or seduced. There's something a little too perfect about the surface textures of all that choral singing. And you can't understand the words, unlike much of Handel, which makes a big difference.
But these pieces displayed great variety of tempo and texture and some pretty tunes.