Monday, November 27, 2023

A rite that endures for good reason

Photo: Ian Thomson 25 November 2023

Messiah, City Choir Dunedin and Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin TownHall, Saturday, November 25, 2023. 

The Southland Times review of the premier of the entire Messiah by the Invercargill Philharmonic Society in 1878 noted the "indefatigable" conductor (Hautrie West) and that the "ordeal" of the rehearsals had met a "very successful performance", before an enthusiastic but sparse audience. 

Then as now, the effort required to bring such a vast and long work to fruition still requires its leader to be indefatigable, the choir to be committed to many rehearsals, and the instrumentalists to be ever present. City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and soloists Elizabeth Mandeno (soprano), Maaike Christie-Beekman (mezzo-soprano), Lachlan Craig (tenor) and Wade Kernot (bass) under David Burchell produced a highly successful performance. 

The less than capacity audience included those who knew to stand up for, and sing along to the Hallelujah Chorus. It also included those new to this rite who grew fidgety over the work’s duration. They rewarded the performers with a prolonged standing ovation. 

As in 1878 the Messiah presents its soloists with something of a rite of passage. The demands of the work are heavy. If the voice is not sufficiently agile or powerful the result can be turgid; every repetition requires renewal; performance stamina should endure long intervals of inactivity. Each had their highlights — Mandeno’s clarity in There Were Shepherds and Rejoice Greatly, Beekman’s dramatic portrayal of He was Despised and Rejected, Craig’s pleading in Behold and See if There be Any Sorrow and Kernot’s triumphant The Trumpet Shall Sound. Each is also culpable of being tongue-tied in the more convoluted melodic lines. The choir’s devotion to task overcame similar shortfalls, but shone in those choruses sung from memory.

Handel’s stalwart Messiah is a rite that endures via its devotees’ devotions.

Review by Marian Poole, Otago Daily Times 27 November 2023.

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