There are some Proms that are likely to sound far better on iPlayer than they ever did live. Last night's Prom 63, in which Bach's Mass in B minor was performed in something akin to chamber format, was one of those. William Christie, Les Arts Florissants and his array of soloists gave crisp, intelligent performances which, for the most part, lacked the sheer heft to ignite the Royal Albert Hall.

Tim Mead © Benjamin Ealovega
Tim Mead
© Benjamin Ealovega
The opening Kyrie gave us a good view of the general style chosen by Christie. A simple repetition of the two words Kyrie eleison, it can be taken elegiacally, allowing the counterpoint to lull the listener into a beauty-infused trance, or it can be driven, with sharp accenting lending urgency to the plea for mercy. Christie chose an intermediate route, maintaining forward momentum while allowing the music space to breathe. The result was well cultured, but I think I would have preferred either of the extremes.

Within the modestly sized orchestra, the problem of lack of heft was most noticeable in the strings, where contrapuntal lines tended to get submerged. Amongst the 24 strong choir, it was most noticeable in the basses, whom I often lost altogether. What fared best were the high lines of the sopranos, able to soar above the background. More generally, in any passage where the melodic lines were clearly distinguishable from the mass, one realised that there was some very fine singing and playing, nuanced and beautifully weighted. Most notable were the passages such as the Domine Deus and the Benedictus, where flutes or oboes, singly or in pairs, duetted with soloists: clean lines and chamber-musician sensitivity to each other made a real impact.

The pick of the soloists was countertenor Tim Mead, and he kept his best until last: the Agnus Dei, the penultimate passage of the work, was the highlight of the evening. It's the way Mead develops a single high note that impresses, the note starting pure and clean, then gaining a series of different colours as it progresses. Also impressive were Mead's duets with soprano Katherine Watson, starting with the early Christe eleison: Watson may not have matched Mead for variety of colour, but she sang warmly in clear, attractively phrased lines. Tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen has a bright voice where I would have preferred something more full bodied to contrast with the others; he also didn't seem quite as precisely in sync with the instrumentalists. Baritone André Morsch made an unfortunate first impression: his opening aria Quoniam tu solus sanctus, a quartet with horn and two bassons, was rather ragged, singers and instrumental soloists failing to coalesce into a coherent unit.

Throughout its length, the Mass in B minor is punctuated by celebratory passages. These were played with good togetherness, at well chosen tempi and with good accenting, but with such a small ensemble in such a large space, they failed to turn into the outbursts of joy that one would wish.

Listen to this on iPlayer and you will gain little insight into my complaints: the close miking means that you can hear every note in good balance. But from a live music point of view, I question the combination of this ensemble, this performance style and this hall. To at least some extent, historically informed performance requires a historically informed room, and had this concert been sited in the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, as was Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle earlier this season, it could have been a truly special event.