Messiah - Handel
Review by Janet Hornby:
Singing or listening to Messiah is a popular way to start Advent so it was full house at St Andrew’s church on Advent Sunday with chairs at the back of the church and even a few rows of audience upstairs in the gallery. The choir, soloists, orchestra and conductor assembled and the opening sinfonia began at a lively pace. The Old Testament prophecies were declaimed and the story was under way.
It was good to welcome back soloists Richard Pollock (tenor) and Joe Bolger (countertenor) who were heard in Messiah with this choir in 2010. They were joined by Paul im Thurn (bass) and Susan Jordan (soprano) who are frequent soloists in Cumbria. All contributed in different ways to communicating the drama. Susan Jordan brought the clarity and sweetness of her sound in the nativity narrative and the confident faith of “I know that my Redeemer liveth”. The beauty of Joe Bolger’s tone was demonstrated in the simplicity of the recitative “Behold, a virgin shall conceive” and in some well-realised ornaments. Richard Pollock’s role was often declamatory, telling the next part of the story, but the pathos of the recitative “Thy rebuke hath broken his heart” was a highlight. Paul im Thurn displayed authority and drama in his arias particularly in the phrase “The Lord shall arise upon thee” and in the aria “Why do the nations rage?”
The choir was in fine form with some muscular singing in the fugues and well-sustained overlapping entries in Handel’s more complex choruses. The dynamic contrasts were well-controlled in “Behold the Lamb of God” and the repeated questions of “Lift up your heads” were urgent and insistent. The orchestra led by Susan Johnson with Ian Hare at the chamber organ provided a full rounded sound to support the choir and soloists. There was a splendid moment of theatre towards the end of the first part when the trumpets, who had not been required thus far, suddenly appeared at the side of the orchestra to accompany the angels singing “Glory to God” and then stole away as the angelic sound faded away into heaven.
Colin Marston conducted the combined forces in his penultimate concert with the choir after 30 years. The music of Messiah is so familiar that it can lose its impact. On Sunday the rhythms were tight and the tempi vigorous and although the music was comfortingly familiar, it was not complacent but well understood and full of powerful drama.