I have to confess a love/hate relationship with Bach's B minor Mass. When I first heard it, more than half a century ago in York Minster, it meant nothing more than a numb bum. What was all the fuss about? I wondered. "Ankündigung des größten musikalischen Kunstwerkes aller Zeiten und Völker" - Nägeli describing it as his "Best ever" piece of music a couple of centuries ago. And again this evening, as Bach was taking 15 minutes over his first Lord have mercy!, I wondered whether I would, despite the appropriate words, possess the stamina for another two hours of this iconic piece. After all, the Mass I'm used to takes less than an hour end-to-end even with a sermon and more than a hundred communicants. Besides, what has Bach to do with prayer?
The B minor - I have heard it a lot on record over the years - gradually began to reestablish its power over me, though, as the soloists, and solo instrumentalists, came forward in the Gloria. By the interval, I was committed to sitting it through, and by the end, just sorry that Dona nobis pacem came so soon. Jonathan Cohen directed a stunning performance! His 20-strong Arcangelo choir were superb: it's invidious to single out individuals after such an event, but Tim Mead's Agnus Dei and Rachel Brown in both her flute solos were outstanding (Mead having starred also in the Sheldonian Messiaheight months ago).
And my question "What has Bach to do with prayer?" was answered in the "...et sepultus est", a moment of utter calm and devotion. One of several.
For something completely different, there were two Cheltenham events earlier in the day: dinosaurs for Ida (I enjoyed it if anything more than she did), and another Times Leader Conference. Very entertaining. Historical characters improved: "Ivan the Not So Bad, Ethelred the I won't be a Moment." "Hedgehogs: why can't they just share the hedge?" What if Nancy Dell'Olio married Lawrence Dallaglio? And apparently Ian Fleming had an affair with Nick Clegg's grandmother. "We are digressing less than we would normally," said Danny Finkelstein.