Choir singing in Royal Hall
HCS logo
Harrogate
Choral
Society

Review

Handel
Messiah

The Royal Hall, Harrogate, 1 December 2012

Handel Messiah flyer

Job well done by HCS

For Handel's Messiah on Saturday, Harrogate Choral Society was accompanied by The Manchester Camerata with soloists Sarah Ogden (Soprano), Stephanie Lewis (Mezzo Soprano), Ben Thapa (Tenor) and Frederick Long (Bass). All were under the capable baton of Andrew Padmore, musical director of Harrogate Choral Society who gathered the various forces in his usual excellent and well-rehearsed manner.

The Manchester Camerata set the scene well in a brilliantly played Overture with very neatly played dotted rhythms in the opening section and a superb account of the following fugue; all entries being given their due importance and yet relating to each other in a most musical way. There then followed some excellent singing from Ben Thapa in Comfort ye and Every valley which was taken at a brisk pace. Throughout the evening, Ben sang with effortless ease and, later in Part Two, he sang the group of items Thy rebuke, Behold and see, He was cut off and But Thou did not leave with great expression and with very good communication.

The Choral Society opened their evening of singing with And the glory which was sung with great enthusiasm and good diction. It was interesting to hear the singers perform at this concert, following, as it did hard on the heels of the excellent Rossini concert sung only two weeks previously. Throughout the evening there was little sign of tiredness. Even in the taxing choruses such as All we like sheep and For unto us which involve a great deal of vocal dexterity and which were taken at a brisk tempo, the choir sounded fresh and alert.

The Bass Solos were sung by Frederick Long whose clarity and articulation in Thus saith the Lord was exemplary and a joy to the ear. The Mezzo Soprano soloist, Stephanie Lewis showed great musicality in the Aria using her dark and wistful voice to great effect in But who may abide with a superb central section For He is like a refiner's fire. O Thou that tellest was also sung very clearly and to good effect.

Following the Pastoral Symphony, the audience was introduced to the voice of Sarah Ogden (Soprano) who sang the four Recitatives concerning the angel and the shepherds with warm and sweet tone. In the following chorus Glory to God, the first time in Handel's score that trumpets are introduced into the orchestra, it was perhaps a pity the trumpeters performed at a distance from the orchestra as they could barely be heard on this occasion. Rejoice greatly was brightly sung by Sarah Ogden; it was plain and unadorned and very sweet. Some may prefer a fuller and more mature tone in this role but this was a sweet, young voice dancing over the semiquaver patterns.

In Messiah, Handel gives much of the introspective and rather darker Arias to the Mezzo Soprano soloist. This being so, one would perhaps have enjoyed slightly more communication between Stephanie Lewis and her audience rather than the 'tightly contained' performance of this evening. Following her Aria He was despised the Choir really gave a splendid display of choral singing in the four powerful choruses which form the central section of Messiah. Surely, All we like sheep and He trusted were taken at a breathless pace but the choir were prepared well by Andrew Padmore and knew what was required of them. Frederick Long gave a splendid account of Why do the nations and indeed Ben Thapa's performance of Thou shalt break them was equally as good.

Undoubtedly though, one of the highlights of the evening was The trumpet shall sound sung with a splendid air of nobility by Frederick Long with simply beautiful trumpet playing from Neil Fulton. The choir rounded off the evening with an excellent and reassuring rendering of Worthy is the Lamb and the massive fugal Amen chorus. For many people in the audience, the annual performance of Messiah by the Harrogate Choral Society is the start of their Christmas. This performance, exciting as it was, though not without its faults, set the scene in an excellent fashion.

Adrian Selway