Messiah (Part 1) - Handel
Psalmfest - Rutter
The Penrith Singers were in sparkling form for their pre-Christmas concert in St. Andrew’s Church last Saturday evening.
Their inspirational director (Edward Taylor), excellent organist (Ian Hare), fine soloists (Emily Milburn, Michael Deakin and Jonathan Millican) led the choir in a very fine performance of the first part of Handel’s ever popular Messiah. One of the most frequently performed choral works, especially in the run-up to Christmas, it takes some effort and an exceptional combination of performers to produce an overall effect which is fresh and exciting. However, the Penrith Singers rose to that challenge and delighted the large audience with their responsive and expressive singing throughout this performance.
From the opening Sinfonia which, musically, sets the scene, Ian Hare’s playing was exemplary, making use of the wide range of tone colours available on the recently rebuilt organ, with just the right blend of sounds to support both the soloists and the choir.
From the opening of the first recitative and in subsequent arias, Jonathan Millican’s superb musicianship was evident, with spot-on intonation and the words clearly projected right to the rear of the nave. Similarly, Michael and Emily sang clearly and expressively throughout their recitatives and arias.
The choir’s singing was accurate, with good attack on each entry and excellent contrasts between the quieter sections such as ‘O thou who tellest good tidings’ and the louder ones such as ‘Glory to God in the highest’.
After the interval, the choir were joined by Gabriel Reid (Oboe) and Jackie Wright (clarinet) for a memorable performance of John Rutter’s ‘Psalmfest’, a wonderful collection of nine extracts from, mostly well-known, psalms. The contrasts in moods and musical expression, from the quietly contemplative to the loudly declamatory, both within and between the psalm settings, makes this a fine set of choral pieces. Particularly memorable were Psalm 23 (‘The Lord is my shepherd’) with its exquisite blend of quiet organ accompaniment, oboe solo, soprano and baritone solos and gently flowing choral lines; also ‘The Lord is my light’ with clarinet and vocal solos and its alternation of quietly mysterious sections compared with the livelier and more declamatory interludes. Several other psalms used syncopated and irregular rhythms, with bright organ registrations and confident choral singing to proclaim ‘O be joyful in the Lord’, ‘O clap your hands’ and, finally, ‘O praise the Lord of heaven’, which brought the concert to fitting climax.