Review - 28 November 2015
This wonderfully iconic piece of music, quite understandably performed most often around the traditional time of Christ's birth, was given an inspiringly masterful 'outing' in the historic church of St. Mary in Bridgwater, by its own Choral Society.
Written by Handel in 1741, The Messiah is surely one of the most performed oratorios, reflecting upon the life and significance of Christ. Many of the arias and choruses are so well known as to have long ago entered the musical lexicon, and now, over 270 years since first performed in Dublin, they remain as popular as ever across a wide spectrum of the general public.
The Messiah opens with a distinctive orchestral overture that sets the mood for the entire piece. To an appreciative audience in St. Mary's, the very competent orchestra led by Brigid Kirkland-Wilson, easily filled the spacious church with hauntingly beautiful music while the exceptionally strong, full voice of Dominick Felix seemed to bounce off the walls and pillars of the building with the tenor recitative 'Comfort ye' and the aria 'Every valley'. With the excellent orchestra accompanying him, his magnificent voice sang out clearly, whilst seemingly without effort.
This lead the audience to a first hearing of the choir, soft and melodic on this occasion, clearly enunciating a praising in 'The glory of the Lord' before the bass voice of Thomas Humphreys, powerful and commanding in the recitative: 'Thus saith the Lord'. A wonderful contrast to the counter tenor Ben Sawyer who took the alto solos. His light and tremulous voice seemed to peek out from behind the pillars, as if emanating from some dark and hidden recesses, far off in the church. He was beautifully accompanied by the choir before the bass, this time, though still commanding, was gently and sadly poignant in in his rendition of 'The people that walked in darkness'.
Having chosen such talented soloists, the Bridgwater Choral had to really come up trumps, and this they easily did as they joyfully sang, 'Unto us a child is born'. And so we in the audience were launched into what proved to be a memorable performance of The Messiah. This is a confident, very 'together' choir, brought to maturity by their talented and exacting conductor Iain Cooper; a choir that has clearly found its collective voice, knows itself, and is capable of tackling almost any piece of choral music, as indeed, in recent years, it has.
The so many beautiful and expressive movements such as 'He shall feed His flock' and 'Behold the Lamb of God' were contrasted by a dynamism which found expression in 'All we like Sheep'.
After the interval, the bass held our attention with the sadly,ever topical question posed in the aria, ' Why do the nations so furiously rage together?' Choir and soloists alike were triumphant in their singing and succeeded in balancing triumph and joy in the famous Hallelujah Chorus with musical restraint, and in 'The trumpet shall sound'. I so appreciated that this professional-sounding choir, could bring, surely by anyone's account, a wonderful evening to a glorious end. The final 'Worthy is the lamb' attained a depth and fullness of sound brought to a spectacular climax with the final Amens. The corresponding resounding and lengthy applause showed how much we all appreciated this concert.
The Bridgwater Choral Society is a choir awaiting greater recognition and eminence, a choir which Somerset audiences are fortunate to have on their doorstep. It is not the first time that a visiting soloist has commented after a performance that the choir is easily the best amateur choir they have sung with. This time it was the tenor who gave the accolade. So don't miss next May's performance of Mozart's Requiem and Haydn's Nelson Mass. Meanwhile they are putting on a carol concert with a local junior school and brass quintet next Saturday, again in St. Mary's church.
See below for comments gathered from a group of audience members, three soloists, Sheila and Iain Cooper:
The Conductor’s comments: This was one of the easiest Messiah’s to conduct of the four I have performed in recent years, a light and airy performance of which I am proud.
Compiled by Clare Bourke-Jones
Atmospheric start by Orchestra, sharp, clear and interest grabbing
Opening aria of new young Tenor Dominick Felix set the standard for the evening
Beautifully controlled runs
And the glory
Confident and joyful entry by the choir
Thus saith the Lord
Authorative and warm tones
But who may abide
Alto voice needed warming up to tackle a notoriously difficult aria, more comfortable half-way through and ended triumphantly
And he shall purify
Richly and elegantly sung by the chorus with high standard o f vocal quality, especially from the Soprano section who were equally matched by the consistent momentum of the lower voices
O thou that tellest
Showed dramatic abilities of choir
The people that walked
Bass of Thomas Humphreys held in superb control
For unto us
Excellent union of Choir and Orchestra (It was also mentioned that we should record that chorus as part of a Christmas disc)
Glory to God
Festive feeling produced from the interaction of the male and female sections, joyous and lively
Soprano Kathryn Skipp growing in warmth and confidence. Her arias were occasionally marred by a few undeveloped top notes, but the rushed and brave stepping in at short notice made these weaknesses acceptable
His yoke is easy
The fluid mobility of the choir made His yoke feel easy indeed
Behold the Lamb of God / He was despised
The tenderness with which Behold the Lamb was sung p rovided the perfect portal to the solo aria by the outstanding Tenor voice in He was despised, matched by the fine playing from the orchestra gave one moment, from the many memorable sections of the evening
Surely / And with His stripes / He trusted in God
True pathos was then followed by visions of suffering painted for us by imaginative use of tempo that continued when the choir produced a spine chilling rendition of a mocking crowd in true anger and articulation throughout And with His Stripes and He trusted in God
Lift up your heads
The beautifully melded voices of a semi-chorus gently began the second half of the performance before the full choir came in with a highly convincing He is the King of Glory.
Let us break their bonds
The experience of the choir really showed through in this pacey chorus, the soprano and tenor sections excelling in the challenging runs.
Then came the beloved Hallelujah chorus, the audience rising as one to acknowledge the magnificence of Handel. The four soloist were not going to be left out and joined in to add to the glorious sounds ringing around the roof of this historic church. The Incumbent Reverend Trish Olive was moved to tears
I know that my redeemer liveth / Since by man came death / Behold, I tell you a mystery
Even more drama and passion was displayed by both orchestra and choir in the sorrowful chromatics of these three pieces, profound feelings displayed by the wonderful interpretation of the bass in both departments
The trumpets shall sound
The triumphant performance of brass players Tom Shevlin and David Whaley floated above the sonorous warm sounds of Bass soloist Thomas Humphreys. If encores were part of this oratorio then surely this would have been relished
Thanks be to God / Worthy is the Lamb / Amen
The dancing phrases of Thanks be to God leads to the beautiful largo entry of Worthy is the Lamb which then develops into the monumental, and sadly too soon Amen, in which the choir and orchestra worked to the thundering climax of Handel's supreme and elevating finale, one in which the the four soloists joined, wanting to remain part of this superior performance to the very last note