music / Canberra Symphony Orchestra Recital Series, with Julian Smiles and Dimity Hall, Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, July 15. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE
LARGE-scale productions of Handel’s “Messiah” have become as much activities of community participation as musical performances.
The chorus can be as large as the stage will accommodate and selling tickets to family and friends might well be the only practical way to fund the production.
From the audience response at the conclusion of the presentation it would seem that many of the almost sold-out audience were known to the singers.
The downside of having more than 160 singers on stage is that the singing is just not going to be as crisp as may be attained by a smaller and a more balanced ensemble. There was a preponderance of sopranos, who have a tendency to get louder as the notes get higher and the altos get pushed very much into the background. Such as large group also has difficulties in the melisma that is an integral part of baroque vocal music. Sometimes it just got a bit blurry.
At the same time, if ticket sales to relatives of the chorus can pay for the professional aspect of the production, this can only be good for all concerned.
The orchestra was tight, well balanced and conductor Leonard Weiss was assured in his handling of the musicians, the soloists and the chorus. As usual in these productions the harpsichord was mostly inaudible and could really only be heard in “Their sound is gone out”, a tenor solo in Part Two.
The soloists were excellent. All four were comfortable and confident in the baroque style of vocal ornamentation more importantly did seem to be enjoying themselves. A standout was counter-tenor Tobias Cole singing the alto solo “He was despised”. I suspect this was effectively a short masterclass in baroque vocal technique and was quite breathtaking. This is certainly not to dismiss the work of the other three who all executed there solos with skill and conviction.
All in all, a most satisfying Messiah, done with enthusiasm and verve. We do need one of these big productions of the oratorio every few years as a necessary part of community music making and the opportunity for the involvement of lots of people.