Choir singing in Royal Hall
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Handel - Messiah
Royal Hall, Harrogate, 5 December 2009

Messiah flyer

'Fresh, vigorous and vibrant' were words that this writer used 12 months ago in describing the performance of Handel's Messiah given by the same choir, orchestra and conductor as that which did so again in the same venue of the Royal Hall on Saturday 5th December of this year. Even though this has now seemed to have become an annual event (December 4th 2010) the energetic and enthusiastic approach of conductor Andrew Padmore, together with his attention to such precise detail, ensured that yet another outstanding triumph took place.

Harrogate Choral Society were on top form. The balance between the sections, despite unfortunate illnesses in the tenor section, was well-nigh perfect and the ensemble was very much-improved in comparison with this writer's last hearing of them. There were many exciting moments, probably none more so than their eagerly-awaited first appearance in 'For the Glory'. A highlight is always 'Hallelujah' and the glory of this word received a true emphasis. Last year it was noted that the audience stood at precisely the correct moment – as the choir sings the first word. This year they were motioned to stand before the orchestral introduction but then encouraged to join in the singing! (Should it state on tickets, in future, to bring scores?) Although the opportunity to sing really softly was not in evidence, there were some imaginative uses of dynamic contrast. However, none of the choral numbers – all of which are so well-written – disappointed and the choir rightly brought the performance to its climax with the exultant 'Amen'.

The quartet of soloists was as good a team as has been heard, locally, within the last decade, or so. John Cunningham (bass) was always most authoritative, which befits the role, even in 'Why do the nations' which was taken at a slower speed than is usually the case. Alexander Grove (tenor) expressed the varying moods of the narrative with suitable contrast and sang his arias with rhythmic energy. Although Melissa Lunn (mezzo-soprano) sang with slightly too much vibrato in the early part of her performance she was most passionate in 'He was despised' and projected extremely well in 'O thou that tellest' over the complex melodic accompaniment.

The only member of the quartet who sang in the 2008 performance was Philippa Hyde (soprano) and on that occasion was sadly suffering from a chest infection. No such disadvantage this year and the clarity of her melismas and ornamentation in 'Rejoice' were most impressive. Her moving singing of 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' included a really true pianissimo – the only one of the evening. She sang virtually from memory throughout, thou never ostentatiously so, and once again she was totally involved with the whole performance, visibly enjoying every moment of the evening and setting an outstanding example of how to 'perform' when not actually performing.

The accompaniment was provided by the Manchester Camerata who set the qualitative standard for the evening with considerable attention to detail in the Overture, especially in terms of accuracy of note-lengths in the double-dotted opening section. Although there were occasional very slight tuning problems in the bass sections, they played with a rhythmic precision throughout and enhanced, rather than merely supported, the singing of choir and soloists alike. It would be extremely difficult to understand why anyone attending this exhilarating performance should not want to be there again in 12 months' time. Anyone not present should find out how and why to take note of the instruction in the programme insert 'Make sure they [HCS concert dates] are in your diary now!'

Paul Dyson