REVIEW: Handel's Messiah

BRIDGWATER’S magnificent parish church of St Mary’s was the venue for a stylish performance of Handel’s choral masterpiece, The Messiah, by another of the town’s treasures, the Choral Society.

The Messiah is always popular with choral societies with its tuneful and often athletic arias, glorious choruses and sumptuous language.

Written more than 200 years ago, using biblical texts, it is still fiercely appropriate to the times we live in, for example: Why do the Nations so Furiously Rage Together? There is not a weak moment in the whole oratorio. A fine quartet of soloists set the bar high.

Jean McElroy, soprano, performed with style, embellishing her part imaginatively, though her intonation was not always quite secure. Fiona Mackay, contralto, a last minute stand-in, sang with great sensitivity for the text and a glorious sound that filled the church.

Tenor Richard Rowntree negotiated the fast runs effortlessly, never losing his warmth of tone. The baritone, Philip Tebb, had a real presence, delivering his arias with dramatic effect, perfect diction and a rich sonority.

The chorus were in exceptionally fine form under their masterly conductor, Iain Cooper. He had clearly worked hard at agility, ensemble, intonation and confidence, all of which helped to create a performance that was exciting, moving and technically assured. And what fun they all were having!

The sopranos sung with a deft, youthful, unified sound, the altos, warm and agile, the tenors, belying their small numbers, were going strong up to the final double bar, and basses were both sonorous as well as fleet-footed in the semiquavers.

The orchestra, led by Brigid Kirkland-Wilson played with precision, springy and rhythmic in the 18th century style. The demanding trumpet solo in The Trumpet Shall Sound, was beautifully executed by Philip Makin.

The buzz after the concert was palpable – everyone from the chorus, soloists, orchestra and large audience clearly had a wonderful evening.

As an added bonus, the retiring collection in memory of former choir member Sylvia McGuire raised £260.48 for SURE, the Somerset-based charity which provides funds for medical equipment for cancer treatment.

It was a shame there weren’t more tenors in the choir. So, come on you tenors of Bridgwater, out of the woodwork and join the Choral Society. You’ll have the time of your lives – and it beats sitting at home on eBay any day.

PETER MERRY

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