Thursday, November 30, 2023

Choir’s best-ever ‘Messiah’ a treat

Messiah, 25 November 2023. Photo: Ian Thomson
Handel’s Messiah 
City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Town Hall 
Saturday, November 25 

Those who said, ‘‘I’ve heard it before’’ and stayed away missed a musical treat when, in a triumphant return, Handel’s Messiah was presented in the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday evening. 

It was a night to savour. 

With accompaniment by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin City Choir excelled in its best-ever performance of the work. Conducted by choir director David Burchell, who also played the harpsichord, there was no sign that he — like many choir members — had just recovered from Covid. 

Originally performed in the lead-up to Easter, Messiah is now a pre-Christmas fixture on musical calendars. Charles Jennens’ English libretto made accessible the story of Christ’s birth, crucifixion and resurrection, especially given the clear diction of all four soloists. Elizabeth Mandeno (soprano), Maaike Christie-Beekman (alto), Lachlan Craig (tenor) and Wade Kernot (bass) delighted the audience. 

Craig’s confident opening recitative set the scene, then — supported by the 70-strong choir — the story continued with Christie-Beekman’s strong depiction of the prophecy of the virgin birth and Kernot’s beautifully conveyed emotion in the Isaiah passage (‘‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’’). 

The soprano introduced the New Testament with the angels appearing to the shepherds and Mandeno’s clear rendition was a pleasure to hear. 

The duets between alto and tenor, and alto and soprano were well done, although at times the voices were a little overwhelmed by the DSO. 

Effectively a trumpet/bass duet, The Trumpet Shall Sound was truly impressive, Kernot’s superb breath control matched by that of trumpeter Ralph Miller. 

Messiah demands a lot of a choir. Dunedin City Choir impressed throughout but was at its very best in We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray and the final chorus, Worthy is the Lamb. The choir’s discipline and the seamless transitions between chorus and soloists were a tribute to the many hours of rehearsal under Burchell’s direction, recognised by the well-deserved standing ovation given at Messiah’s conclusion.

Saturday’s Messiah was the perfect lead-in to Advent. 

Review by Gillian Vine, The Star 30 November 2023

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