Music / “Messiah – A Sacred Oratorio”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with soloists. At Llewellyn Hall, July 8. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE.
FIRST performed in Dublin in 1742, Handel’s “Messiah” is the most frequently performed and beloved piece in the choral repertoire. Handel himself conducted and the reception was rapturous.
Guest conductor Anthony Hunt opted for tempi, striking a pleasing balance between “old-school” readings as defined by Sir Adrian Bolt and Sir Malcolm Sargent and modern, faster approaches delivered by the likes of Christopher Hogwood and Trevor Pinnock.
Another of the multitude of decisions required in presenting “Messiah” is the size of the orchestra and chorus. While the original score is arranged for a relatively small ensemble, large-scale productions have been undertaken over the years with massive choirs and fleshed-out orchestras including instruments not even available during Handel’s time, most famously in an arrangement by Wolfgang Mozart, at the suggestion of his mentor Gottlieb van Swieten.
Sir Thomas Beecham had the work rearranged similarly, also dispensing with the harpsichord, which he hated, having it replaced with two harps.
Canberra Symphony Orchestra opted for a moderate-size string section, augmented by two oboes, two bassoons, two trumpets (called for in the original), timpani (also original), harpsichord and organ.
Soprano soloist Chloe Lankshear sang her lines with clarity and assurity, delivering a performance of beauty and style. Her wide dynamic and tonal shadings ranged from delicacy and poise, contrasted with joyous, voluminous and beautifully phrased passages. Her performance of the aria “Rejoice greatly” was a highlight of the evening.
Counter-tenor Tobias Cole, singing the alto solo part, was variable in his performance. Lacking vocal strength, he did however sing some passages with subtlety and grace, leaving good diction and a deep sincerity to the text as his strengths.
Cole’s great contribution to the success of this performance was his preparation of the choir, who sang well. The sopranos and altos in particular acquitted themselves with polished and refined singing. One questions the wisdom of amplifying the choir. The numbers were there to present this work acoustically. Greater breath control and proper use of the diaphragm would have delivered all the volume required.
Tenor Andrew Goodwin and bass Adrian Tamburini sang well. Goodwin has a very light and fast vibrato most of the time, which sometimes marred the clarity of his delivery, but on the whole his was a creditable performance. Tamburini’s singing bass had excellent English diction, a bold delivery and commanded the stage with authority.
In accordance with the fashion of the Baroque era, all four soloists added beautifully crafted ornamentation and embellishment to their lines.
The orchestra played well, but with some disappointing intonation problems within the string section. Woodwinds, continuo, timpani and brass were all fine. Conductor Hunt added some unusual accent points in the orchestral accompaniment, particularly noticeable in “But who may abide”, the result being a very welcome, fresh, new approach that added interest and colour.
Lead trumpet played by Zach Raffan shone brightly in both the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “The Trumpet Shall Sound”. His tone and volume filled the venue with ease. Showcasing lyrical and beautifully shaped phrasing, his playing was also one of the highlights of the evening.
Overall, this massive undertaking by CSO was a successful and enjoyable event, confirmed by a very enthusiastic reception from the audience.
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