Handel’s ‘Messiah’

Handels Messiah ASOAdelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 27 Nov 2014

It’s over 250 years old, it’s iconic and we never tire of listening to it at Christmas time.  Occasionally there’s an attempt to freshen it up using soloists who are more accustomed to the popular stage, but it is mostly left alone, thankfully.  Its power and beauty is a total triumph of human creativity.  It is of course Handel’s sacred oratorio ‘The Messiah’.

This particular performance is especially pleasing, and we will need to wait a very long time before it is surpassed. Guest conductor Matthew Halls knows the score by heart and conducts the performance from memory.  No book in evidence.  His almost intimate knowledge and understanding of the score means he is able to extract everything Handel has on offer, and it is superb.  Conducting a choir is a somewhat different craft to conducting an orchestra. Singers come in exactly on the conductor’s beat, whereas musicians often delay a little (for which there is a range of technical reasons).  Therefore, conducting a choir and orchestra together requires discipline and precision, and Matthew Halls is completely successful.

The Adelaide Chamber Singers and the four solo vocalists are at one with the mighty ASO.  The performance has precision, warmth, pathos and jubilation.  It is exciting and uplifting.  And it has theatre.  Halls positioned the soloists at the sides of the stage and when required they purposely strode to the center, set themselves in front of the podium, take the audience in, and sing.

Following the introductory ‘Sinfony’, tenor Richard Butler gives an illuminating performance of ‘Comfort Ye’.  He is charismatic, almost mesmerizing, and I am completely taken in by him.  His steely gaze throughout ‘All They That See Him’ is almost unnerving.

Countertenor, Christopher Field sings the alto line.  His tonal production is superb, and with strength at the lower end of the register he is ideally suited to the baroque. Using his body expressively, he is captivating to watch.

Soprano, Siobhan Stagg has a delightfully true voice with a relaxed, almost imperceptible vibrato.  Her performance of ‘I Know That My Redeemer Liveth’ has a joyous simplicity that won the audience over and put a gentle smile on the faces of many.

Bass, Christopher Purvis’s performance of ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ is impressive.  With principal trumpet Matt Dempsey, who retreats upstage and plays commandingly as if a herald, forming an imposing tableau; the result is almost terrifying.  Great theatre!

Of course, the evening belongs to the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, as it always does.  The audience rose to its feet, as custom now dictates, and the world famous and internationally decorated Adelaide harmony Choir erupts to the famous strains of what is surely the most loved and recognisable chorus in history.  The applause is thunderous.

The choir’s founder, artistic director and conductor Carl Crossin, has again rung his magic.  The sound production in all sections is first rate. From the first choral entrance to the very last release in the final Amen, there is studied precision and maximum clarity.

Matthew Halls knows he is conducting a class outfit, and at its conclusion the performance deserved the lengthy standing ovation from a rapt audience.

Deeply satisfying, and uplifting.

Kym Clayton

When: Closed
Where: Adelaide Town Hall
Bookings: Closed