Messiah - Handel
Review by Janet Hornby:
There is a well-established custom of marking the approach of Christmas with a performance of Messiah by George Frederick Handel. Messiah must be the best-loved oratorio in the repertoire. However the inclement weather on Sunday meant that only the hardiest souls braved treacherous icy conditions to attend the Penrith Singers’ concert. Happily, there are hundreds of such intrepid souls in Penrith, and the choir inspires such a following that extra chairs had to be put out at the back of St Andrew’s church. There was a warm atmosphere of expectation and in such weather the audience had every right to expect a treat.
Colin Marston, Musical Director of the Penrith Singers, conducted the concert. The orchestra, led by Susan Johnson, with Ian Hare playing continuo organ, provided strong support for choir and soloists. After the overture, the tenor started soothingly with Comfort Ye but soon he was into the arresting message that the Messiah was on his way. Richard Pollock, whom we heard two years ago in Christmas Oratorio, sang with dramatic intensity, notably in Thy rebuke hath broken his heart where he communicated urgently the pathos in the bare lines of the recitative. We look forward to hearing him as the Evangelist in the St Matthew Passion in April.
It was good to hear Joe Bolger on home ground. His counter-tenor sound is developing well with a wide range and real power at the top. He sang Behold, a virgin shall conceive with telling simplicity; and later conveyed the malice of the smiters. The ornaments in his arias were strikingly elegant and appropriate. As the oratorio moves through the portrayal of the suffering servant towards triumph and confidence, the counter-tenor gives way to the soprano, but there was a glorious collaboration between them in He shall feed his flock where the tone colours were well-matched and the handover from one voice to the other was seamless.
Benjamin Weaver, baritone, has a flexible voice with clear diction. He sang of darkness and light, and finally and very effectively of mystery, change and triumph. The final aria with the trumpet was a thrilling combination.
Handel keeps the soprano under wraps until halfway through Part I. She has all the best lines: the most exciting moments are hers and it is she who recounts the drama of the birth of Jesus and the appearance of the angels to the shepherds. Emma Peaurt, another welcome return at this time of year, made the most of these moments with her bright clear voice. Later she sang How beautiful are the feet and I know that my redeemer liveth with great clarity and conviction.
The choir were off to a rhythmic start in And the glory of the Lord. For unto us a child is born showed contrasting dynamics between the dancing counterpoint and the blocks of sound. Part 2 was expressively sung from the low difficult start for the altos in Behold the Lamb of God through the well-rounded sound of “Surely...” to the questioning “Who is this King of glory?” Then we were into Part 3 and the final fugues rolled on, bringing the evening to a satisfying conclusion.
It was a treat and we went home warmed by the magnificent music of Messiah.