Have you ever been, dear reader, to one of those giant churches in the American South – the type that seats ten thousand and where every service is a major musical extravaganza? Well, no, I haven’t either, as it happens, although I used to make sound equipment for them. But I imagine that they have the kind of atmosphere that the opening of the BBC’s late night Gospel Prom was trying to whip up in the Royal Albert Hall crowd.

Over the years, the BBC have sprinkled the Proms with a few non-classical events (comedy in 2011, Broadway last year, to give a couple of examples, as well as a regular jazz Prom or two). This year was the turn of Gospel, for which curator Andrea Encinas assembled an awesome collection of no less than seven choirs comprising a hundred and fifty singers, together with a battery of soloists. The result was some very fine music, but an evening whose whole was very much less than the sum of its parts – an interesting experience rather than an uplifting one.

The beginning was promising, as Pastor David Daniel gave us a high energy welcome, working the crowd and giving us hopes of the roof being blown off by the end of the night. The music started gently, with the London Adventist Chorale giving us beautiful close harmony versions of the spirituals Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen and Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land, followed by a medley of spirituals sung by all of the choirs together in a distinct calypso feel. Conductor Ruth Waldron impressed: she could have been a dancer in another life, moving with elegance and vigour as she somehow kept the massed ranks of singers under tight rein. The best of the soloists (to my taste) followed: Carla Ellington singing Amazing Grace. Later in the evening, Miyuwa Olarewaju kicked in a large dose of energy: a big man in bright yellow shoes and far too much clothing for the evening’s sweltering heat, infectious in his enthusiasm and his African beats. A backing band of bass/guitar/drums and two keyboard players proved competent and adaptable.

But I think it was an unwise decision to create the evening’s programme very much in the mode of a documentary, devised, in Encinas’s words, “to tell the story of Gospel music’s evolution in the UK”. So, for sure, we got a sprinkling of half a dozen substyles of gospel music: spirituals, Caribbean hymns, traditional American, contemporary British, high energy African and some very rocky numbers to finish off with, and one could take a kind of academic interest from listening to all of these, from the classical-friendly opening through the various popular styles that have melded into the overarching concept of gospel. But packing so much into the programme meant that no-one really had time to develop a relationship with the audience. Pastor Daniel, so convincing in the opening, spent much of the evening reduced to the status of history teacher, which didn’t leave much room for religious inspiration. By the time each of the several combinations of soloist and choir was warmed up and had really begun to engage the audience, it was time for the next one (preceded by the obligatory mini history lesson).

The event’s other failing was in the sound design: a single loudspeaker cluster meant that all the sound came from a single point located high above the middle of the stage, far divorced from the visible location of the singers. Regular operagoer that I am, listening to amplified voices can be a treat – a singer like Ellington can achieve clarity, power and warmth without needing to overstrain her voice – but my ears were locating all one hundred and fifty singers plus four-piece rock band all crunched into a single point relatively close to the ceiling, and it didn’t help the atmosphere.

I think it was a great idea to do a Gospel Prom, and there was much in last night’s programme that I’m glad I heard and would have loved to hear more of. But I’d have much preferred it if the BBC had restricted the history lesson aspect to the programme notes, chosen a smaller set of performers and given them the space to build up a rapport with the audience and work up the kind of religious fervour which, after all, is what Gospel music is really about.

Prom 7 - Gospel Prom, at Royal Albert HallDavid Karlin reviews the late night Gospel Prom at the BBC Proms 2013.3