Thursday, December 12, 2019

Inspired and uplifting performance

Handel's Messiah
Tuesday 10 December 2019, Dunedin Town Hall

Handel's evergreen oratorio Messiah was given an inspired and uplifting performance in Dunedin Town Hall on Tuesday by City Choir Dunedin, four guest soloists, and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra -- all under David Burchell's unerring baton.

This work, composed in 1741, comprises a mammoth meditation on the Christian message, with dramatic interludes. Its many contrasts of texture, dynamics and scoring demand great sensitivity and flexibility from all those on stage, but smooth follow-throughs -- obviously resulting from much careful rehearsal -- always ensured a real sense of continuity and held the large audience's attention.

Soloists Rebecca Ryan (soprano), Tessa Romano (alto), Andrew Grenon (tenor) and Joel Amosa (bass) all gave sterling performances in their different ways, though Romano's dulcet tones often failed to carry in the large hall.

Especially impressive were Grenon's expressive ornaments in 'Comfort ye', Ryan's bright delivery of 'Rejoice greatly', and Amosa's stentorian 'The trumpet shall sound' coupled with Ralph Miller's silvery trumpet obbligato.

But it was the choir's part in this great work that brought it most to life for the audience -- they even burst into applause after the 'Hallelujah' chorus! If aggressiveness was needed (in 'He trusted in God'), the choir gave it; if florid counterpoint (in 'His yoke was easy' -- ironically, one of the hardest choruses to sing) was called for, they produced it. Best of all were three choruses sung from memory -- 'Glory to God', 'Lift up your heads' and 'Since by man came death'.

The Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, led by Miranda Adams, added greatly to the performance's strength and seamlessness, with Burchell's well-chosen tempos for the set-pieces always firmly established.

And the continuo group -- cellist David Murray and organist Johnny Mottershead, with Burchell on harpsichord -- were always at the ready for the recitatives.

Not just a pre-Christmas treat, then, but a true treasure!

Reviewed by Donald Cullington, The Star, 12 December 2019.

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