Over fifty years ago I was taken to the Albert Hall by my piano “daddy” Sidney Harrison who was concerned that his star schoolboy pupil should receive the right nourishment from an early age.
And so that was the first occasion that I heard Bach`s Mass in B minor.
Later as a student at the Royal Academy I was privileged to hear two performances with Otto Klemperer and the unforgettable Janet Baker.
The former performance in the 1960`s I expect was for large choral forces but the second with Klemperer was much reduced and,of course, very slow with great weight and meaning to each note as one expected from a musician of such stature now passed into legend.
It was with Walter Legge`s legendary Philharmonia in the Festival Hall.
But nothing could have prepared me for the absolute clarity of line from William Christie and Les Arts Florissants tonight fifty years on.
This must have been what Bach heard and made one realise that it could not be any other way.
This is not music of effect but the greatest work ever dedicated to the Glory of God.
That is not to say that there was not much interplay and subtle rubato between the partecipants.This was no cold “authentic” performance but a live and moving experience.
Almost two hours,without interval, with six thousand people in total rapt silence following the inspired language that Bach had lain before them.
The famous Agnus Dei that was so memorable with Janet Baker here was sung by the counter tenor Tim Mead and how could it possibly be otherwise in this context.
Andre Morsch the magnificent baritone with Katherine Watson,soprano and Reinoud Van Mechelen ,tenor all singing with the magnificent chorus …there were no divas here but all equal together in the Glory of God !
What a lesson in real humility and absolute musicianship .
As if this was not enough it was preceded by a Proms Extra of a Paul Tortelier masterclass of Bach’s 3rd cello suite from vintage BBC television when television was still a means of instructing and informing .
None of these monosyllabic dramas of today, interrupted every fifteen minutes by advertisements that are often much better than the actual dramas so highly advertised by the PR boys!Yes Young Victoria is what I tried to digest the other day . Hard indeed to digest after having seen Yerma at the Young Vic and listening now the Bach B minor mass.
Endless reminders about television license ……..well I think they should pay us damages for having such rubbish transmitted into every living room in the land!
And there was our adorable Tortelier who often came to play in my theatre in Rome.
I asked him once to give a talk on Bach .He said he thought he might be able to talk for an hour.
Well after six hours of talking ,playing both cello and piano and involving all the public I had to ask him to stop in order to prepare for that evenings stage performance.
Actually it was Paul who said he would play in the so called authentic way when they discovered and authentic way of making recordings!
What an artist !Never forgotten…and there he was this evening as an aperitivo to the Greatest Work written to the Glory of God .He would have loved it!