Handel’s Messiah

Conductor Robin Morrish’s speeds were spot on, exuberant and dancing in ‘And the glory of the Lord’ and with exactly the drive to sustain the drama in the Passion sequence choruses at the opening of Part II. Here the chorus came into its own with the tenors providing a much-needed incisiveness of tone at the great climaxes. At modern speeds articulating Handel’s florid runs is seriously difficult, especially for a large chorus. It was to the credit of the strings, ably led in all sections, that their precision and clarity of articulation provided the essential rhythmic under-pinning to so much of the performance.

As ever, the Philharmonic was well served by an admirable quartet of soloists. If the somewhat gentle voice of contralto Leonie Saint seemed restrained it was only by comparison with the stellar trio of her companions. Tenor Sam Furness set the performance alight with truly Baptist-like fervour in his first recitative and was most moving in ‘Thy rebuke hath broken his heart’. Wendy Nieper sang the angel’s recitative with perfect simplicity and then gave her arias exactly the operatic style Handel requires, complete with beautifully judged ornamentation and sparkling fioritura. Her performance of ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’, accompanied solely by Penelope Howard’s exquisite violin obbligato, and with excellent continuo support from Elizabeth Moore (cello) and Chris Harris (chamber organ), was a moment of true musical perfection. The bass of Edward Price excelled throughout, holding us rapt in ‘Behold I tell you a mystery’ and, perfectly paired with Jeremy Clack’s brilliant solo trumpet, blazed with conviction in ‘The trumpet shall sound’.

At such moments, and indeed, when choir, orchestra, soloists (and audience!) joined forces for the great ‘Hallelujah!’ and, in the final magnificent fugal ‘Amen’, Handel’s masterpiece came spectacularly to life.

Charles Vignoles