Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 9 Dec 2016
Handel’s Messiah needs no introduction. Everyone, seemingly, is acquainted with it. On the way home in the tram after the performance, a young Japanese international student was peering intently at the cover of my programme while I was reading it. You could tell that he wasn’t quite sure what “Adelaide Symphony Orchestra - Handel’s Messiah” meant, but the cover attracted his attention. Perhaps it was the striking picture of the stained-glass window? I googled Hallelujah Chorus on my smart phone and a performance on YouTube by the Royal Choral Society in 2012 headed the list. I started to play it for him and within seconds his face lit up with a beaming smile. He knew it. Of course he did– it’s famous the world over – but the Messiah is of course much more than the iconic and much loved Hallelujah Chorus.
Handel's Messiah is a true classic. It has withstood the test of time since its composition two hundred and seventy-five years ago in 1741, and it is likely to endure for centuries more to come.
This evening’s performance by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was one of the best that I have heard, including recorded performances on CD or vinyl. The orchestra was not overpowered, especially in the strings section, and the playing and conducting was precise, assured. The precision, clarity and dynamic control of the choir was for the most part thrilling, and the four soloists were perfectly matched to the vocal and dramatic demands of their arias.
Under the direction of maestro Stephen Layton, who is no-less than the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the City of London Sinfonia and Director of Music of Trinity College, Cambridge, the whole thing was really very, very good, and much greater than the sum of its parts.
The four soloists all hail from the UK. Tenor Gwilym Bowen’s first gentle strains in Comfort ye seemingly rose from nowhere and filled the Adelaide Town Hall with warmth and conviction. Bass-baritone Robert Davies was simply outstanding and his execution of The people that walked in darkness was world class and almost a show stopper. There were no gravelly tones or loss of clarity or strength in the lower register. He was benevolence personified. Soprano Eleanor Dennis sang Rejoice greatly with assuredness and with a gentle vibrato that for the main suited the aria. Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston sang the alto line and her performance of O thou that tellest demonstrated exquisite diction and surprising clarity in the concluding phrases in the lower register.
The Adelaide Chamber Singers are a world class choir, and have indeed won international awards, and their well-timed and almost perfectly synchronised delivery of choruses such as Surely He hath borne our griefs, And with His stripes we are healed, and All we, like sheep demonstrated their celebrity in abundance.
I know that my Redeemer liveth followed the awe-inspiring Hallelujah Chorus and the combination of soprano, chamber organ and cello was sublime. Dennis was at the top of her game.
Surprisingly, Layton chose to abandon the chamber organ in favour of the imposing Walker pipe organ in the final Amen chorus, and the result left us with goose-bumps. Layton, the soloists, the choir, and the reduced-sized Adelaide Symphony Orchestra thoroughly deserved the protract
ed and enthusiastic applause from the capacity audience.
When: 9 Dec
Where: Adelaide Town Hall