Handel’s Messiah



There was a sense of occasion in Tonbridge School Chapel on 19th March when a capacity audience, led by Councillor Owen Baldock, Mayor of Tonbridge and Malling, welcomed musicians from the town’s twin, Heusenstamm.  Excellent sections of the programme explained the history going back to 1989, of the three-yearly exchanges between the Evangelische Kantorei and Tonbridge Philharmonic Society.  This year, twenty-seven singers and two violinists were among the guests when, on the day before the start of Holy Week, and in partnership with the Philharmonic Society’s choir and orchestra, Messiah was performed.

Matthew Willis undertook the direction of the combined forces to perform a work of complex demands, relating through Biblical texts chosen by Charles Jennens, the story of the Saviour: Prophecy, the Nativity, the Cross, the Resurrection and the Day of Judgement.  Contributions were made by four gifted soloists, by Christopher Harris, chamber organ, and by augmented brass.

As the triumphant end of Part 2 , the ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus saw most of the audience standing, as tradition invites; and at the end of the performance, they stood and cheered.

From the opening orchestral Sinfonia with its brisk swinging tempi, throughout each section, they had listened to a confident, well-shaped and varied performance, as Matthew Willis drew total support from his enlarged resources. The attack was full and confident, words were clear, and entries accurate, the variety of dynamics and tempi well focused, full of subtle touches, for example when soloists elegantly ornamented the themes of their da capo arias. Orchestral forces were strong, especially when beautifully supporting solo arias.  When the chorus deployed their full strength in Lift up your heads, or the bass soloist proclaimed The trumpet shall sound, the tension was electrifying.  Total cohesion was achieved and Worthy is the Lamb, the final movement, was both monumental and moving.  The effect was enhanced as all four soloists were seen to take part with the rest.

So the evening ended, with deserved thanks to the musicians and their director; a performance which we may feel would have satisfied both Handel and Jennens.

Anne Mills

24 March 2016