City of Birmingham Choir & CBSO
2 December 2016
Birmingham Symphony Hall
4 Stars ****
Running time 3 hours
Review: Paul & David Gray
Hearing Messiah with new ears
With a work as well-known as Handel’s Messiah, it can be difficult to bring something new to the table. The City of Birmingham Choir’s performance achieved this difficult task in a reading rich with revelation. This was largely possible due to the strong bond that clearly exists between conductor, Adrian Lucas and his choir. Truly electrifying.
The choir responded as one to his baton, enabling him to shape, colour and punctuate the music to a penetrating level of detail. This is a full bodied ensemble, confident enough to use the Symphony Hall acoustic to its full potential. Fortes were rich and striking; pianissimos, hauntingly hushed. Some exhilarating tempi provided passage work never less than crisp, precise and energetic. The music simply danced.
Impressively, the overall structural sweep of the music did not suffer as a result of this concentration on the minutiae. Rather, the audience was drawn into the music and taken though a story told with passion and commitment. This was a Messiah which connected with Handel’s innate sense of drama; each section building towards its climax so that the big final choruses, Hallelujah and Worthy is the Lamb, had a real feel of occasion and, more importantly, catharsis about them. This was storytelling at its very best.
A small but perfectly formed contingent of the CBSO played with great sensitivity, breathing with the singers and managing to sound convincingly period on modern instruments.
Of the soloists, tenor, Rupert Charlesworth stood out, giving a commanding and nuanced performance. Bass, George Humphreys, possessing a lyrical voice with a baritone quality, was, at times, slightly underpowered, particularly in a truncated The Trumpet Shall Sound. Alto, Hannah Pedley, sang with a burgundy tone in her lower register and brought an exquisitely fragile humanity to How Beautiful are the Feet. Soprano, Alison Roddy, gave rise to serious reservations. A thin, badly supported tone in the middle register, a wildly out of control vibrato throughout, and a tendency to snatch at top notes and to swoop, significantly marred what should have been some of the vocal highlights of the evening. A real shame.
Overall, this was an outstanding version of a much loved work, which left us feeling totally ready & energised for Christmas.
Conductor: Adrian Lucas
Alto: Hannah Pedley
Tenor: Rupert Charlesworth
Bass: George Humphreys
Harpsichord: Thomas Trotter
Organ: Christopher Allsop
City of Birmingham Chorus and CBSO