Handel Messiah in Birmingham Town Hall.

Messiah told in familiar language but with an exhilarating finale.

On this Good Friday, we commemorated the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death with his mighty oratorio Messiah, a fine way with which to begin Easter.

The Birmingham Choral Union presented a performance closer to Handel’s original intentions, with chamber orchestra including chamber organ and harpsichord as suitable recitative accompaniments. Where better for such a performance than our fine Town Hall with its splendid acoustics?

There is a danger with this time-honoured work of taking too much for granted. Familiar arias and choruses need to be approached afresh. Fine words and imaginative orchestral writing are telling history’s most dramatic story, needing expression and commitment.

Plodding dynamics from the orchestra set the scene initially, with a strident leader eventually taking over, too often tipping the balance between discretion and participation. Conductor Colin Baines was understandably more involved with vocal contributions, urging the chorus towards more joy and wonder so often depicted in the text. One wished for clearer consonants from all voices, but familiar language shone through.

A light baritone was inappropriate for some of the weightier bass arias, but Peter Taylor manfully pursued his mission whilst being occasionally overwhelmed by an urgent orchestra, articularly in well-executed florid semiquaver passages.

Rich tone from Anne Chivere delivered alto arias with thought and conviction, contrasting well with Sarah Cotterill’s light soprano. Adam Magee’s firm tenor executed his dramatic roles with imagination and sincerity.

The choir was noticeably more relaxed with the stirring Hallelujah chorus – a true wake-up call. Worthy is the Lamb was wonderfully inspiring, with rich harmonies leading eventually to an exhilarating Amen chorus.

Maggie Cotton.


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