Sunday, 12 December 2010

From Monteverdi to the Messiah

Ripon Choral Society and the Orchestra d'Amici performed Handel's Messiah at the cathedral last night at what is becoming an annual highlight. The Messiah is all the more extraordinary for having been written in 24 days. Handel was a man of deep faith and, as Beethoven said, he, of all composers, knew best how to achieve grand effects and stir the heart and spirit using simple means. Every year, one or other part of the oratorio takes me by surprise and I hear something new in this extraordinary music - it's rather like the scriptures themselves  - there is always something yet to discover! John Dunford manages to keep performances fresh, year by year. This year, the pace of some of the arias and choruses brought a real vigor and precision to the music and words. Duncan Rock, the bass, was indisposed so his part was taken  at very short notice by Dominic Barber, a bass baritone who has recently sung Idomeneo at the Edinburgh Fetsival. All the soloists were excellent and distinctive and sang some of the lesser known versions of arias. Rebecca Lea (soprano) had the most most amazing upper register so that arias like 'And Suddenly there was with the Angel' and Rejoice Geatly' just soared!

There was a story (it may be apocryphal!) that Handel visited Hafod, a stately home in the Welsh mountains near Plynlumon and was inspired by the majesty of the surrounding country to write the Messiah. Be that as it may, my memory of Welsh Christmases is that almost every town could field a choir and orchestra which could give a more than creditable performance of the Messiah. So I come with high expectations! The choirs of Yorkshire are equally wonderful and Ripon Choral Society is outstanding in its ability to make a whole range of music live. Not long ago they tackled the difficult Monteverdi Vespers (2010 is the work's 400th anniversary) which require a very different and strongly rhythmic approach with the choir dividing into ten parts at times. Again the soloists were excellent and the whole performance took us into the rather strange and experimental world of early seventeenth century music where the composers of the day inhabited a space somewhere between the old polyphonic styles of writing and the newer styles we are more accustomed to hearing in Baroque music. I've also enjoyed the Choral Society singing Carl Jenkins and Faure and I look forward to hearing in them in Britten's War Requiem (2nd April 2011) and Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle (18th June 2011).

Unfortunately, I cannot get to Richmond next Saturday where the Richmond Choral Society, under the baton of Kathryn Haworth, are singing Schubert's Mass in G in St Mary's church. I know that last year the snow interfered with their performance and so we hope for better conditions this year and realise how extremely fortunate we are to have such a feast of music across the whole area.

1 comment:

  1. I thought you may be interested in this (a random 'flash mob' performance of the Hallelujah Chorus in food court):

    God bless!