MUSIC / J S Bach's tiny dome of sound: The Albert Hall - a place where Sumo wrestlers wrestle and multinationals hold AGMs - is no one's living room

J S BACH wrote the St Matthew Passion to be performed in the chief church of Leipzig at Good Friday Vespers in 1727. He did not expect it to be played under a large dome in central London by people in satin frocks and white tuxedos.

This is of course more than obvious, but it was hard not to be reminded of it during last Sunday's presentation of Bach's masterpiece in the Proms. In all other ways Joshua Rifkin's account of the work, so we were assured, gave us the exactest possible reproduction of Bach's own performance practice, the very cutting edge of authenticity. But you just knew Johann Sebastian would not have chosen the Albert Hall as a venue.

Musicologically, Rifkin's approach to Bach is at the centre of a nicely warm dispute. Did Bach use a choir to sing his choruses or not? Rifkin believes not, so in his Bach the choruses are sung by the soloists, doubling up for the occasion: 'minimal forces', like the programme said. Rifkin has proved his method can work by making some of the most distinctive and thrilling recordings of Bach choral works around. But the Albert Hall - a place where Sumo wrestlers wrestle and multinationals hold AGMs - is no one's living room.

The net result of all this was that a performance which may well have been excellent was for much of the time lost. In the massive opening chorus of the work, for example, the central melody - the cantus firmus that runs through it - was taken by a single soprano where normally a choir of boys would have sung it. If Rachel Platt had turned more in my direction when she sang (but she could hardly turn in everybody's direction) it might be possible to say a little more about her contribution. As it was, it got lost half a mile or so away.

In the end, not hearing voices or instrumental lines was our least problem. In so large a space this most intimate and contemplative work just couldn't make the required impact. For the soloists it was a shame, since they mostly sang very well. John Elwes, the tenor evangelist, controlled his long exposed tracts of recitative just right, striking the delicate balance between high emotion and dignified narrative; and the Swedish soprano Susanne Ryden, making her Proms debut, was really moving in her one big moment, the aria 'Blute nur, du lieber Herz'.

The orchestra was the combined Bach Ensemble (Rifkin's own) and the St James's Baroque Players. Again, hardly a massive body of sound - and the soloists, notably Sarah Cunningham's virtuoso viola da gamba - came across clearest. In the right place - a church, where it most 'authentically' belongs - perhaps Joshua Rifkin might just give us the ultimate performance of Bach's great Passion. But when the gentleman on my left said he wished he'd left a cassette running to record the Prom at home, he was spot on. Radio 3 listeners had the best of it.

This was pretty well proved by a late-night concert on Wednesday in which Harry Christophers conducted The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra. These people are noted period performers, too. But where Rifkin gave us eight to a chorus in Bach, The Sixteen, defying their name, gave us 26. Owing, if nothing else, to their greater size, they actually produced a murmur or two of excitement. But the greatest success of the evening came unexpectedly in Schoenberg: Friede auf Erden op 13 - a motet of sorts, once thought unsingable owing to its general late-romantic tonal mush. The Sixteen's account of it was heroic.

Another of the week's wonders - or so we had been led to expect - was, for me, a disappointment. This was Scenes and Arias, a 1962 piece by the British composer Nicholas Maw, given on Monday by the BBC SO under Mark Elder. A rarely-heard setting of early English love poetry for three women's voices, the work just didn't come across as the great and influential piece we were anticipating: Maw has changed since 1962, judging from his violin concerto of last year. Strangely off-balance, denying itself some obvious symmetrical pleasures offered by the verse, the language of the piece was too eclectic to be wholly engaging, its moments of great beauty regularly let down by gratuitous Sixties ear-attack, rude trumpets one moment, the old farting- trombone trick the next. The orchestra was on top form (conspicuously in Elgar's In the South before we left), but the greatest pleasure in Scenes and Arias was the simplest: three women's voices soaring away regardless and having a high old time.

There is one sure-fire antidote to audience disappointment in the British concert hall, and it - I mean he, Sir Simon Rattle - turned up on Thursday night, during a break from his hair-raising Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne. For his City of Birmingham SO and the Albert Hall, Rattle chose a stiffish programme: Debussy's La Mer as rousing send-off, Messiaen (the Debussyesque Poemes pour Mi, expertly sung and semi-spoken by Maria Ewing) and, in the first half, Sibelius and Mark-Anthony Turnage.

The work by Turnage - reformed angry young man of English music, so we're told - was Drowned Out. Whatever its inspiration - a novel by William Golding or even, the programme suggested, Turnage's asthma - this is, frankly, one hell of a piece. It's an enthralling bit of writing for the orchestra - with special reference to the percussion section. At one climax - the moment in the score marked 'very nasty', I assumed - a rather gentle-looking instrumentalist hit the bass drum with more viciousness than I had thought possible.

Not that Turnage's work is all vicious insult. Drowned Out (which was receiving its London premiere) has its moments of humour - a smiling jazz section among them. Essentially this is a young composer (34) showing off his skills. If at times Drowned Out seemed diffuse, it was nothing the CBSO couldn't tighten up. The audience warmed to it, and applauded more than politely when Turnage took a bow. When Rattle took his they went wild.

Michael White returns next week.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil