Review - 04 December 2010

Source: Bridgwater Mercury 14th December 2010

Handel’s Messiah is like Christmas pudding: it is essential to the celebrations. As Chef Heston Blumethal has demonstrated, there’s nothing like novelty to refresh a family favourite. In the case of the Bridgwater Choral Society’s festive and well-attended performance at St Mary’s Church on 4 December, the zesty orange in the middle was the bass soloist, Ashley Riches. From his first entrance, Riches, an opera student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, dazzled us with his ‘shakes’ and sure intonation, bringing the music vividly to life. In ‘For behold, darkness shall cover the earth’, he held us spellbound, though his equally admirable performance of’ ‘The people that walk in darkness’ was slightly marred by uncertain intonation in the strings. At ‘Behold, I tell you a mystery’ the members of the audience were on the edge of their seats, primed for the trumpet to sound, and the trumpeter Philip Markin did not disappoint, confidently proclaiming the Last Judgment from a darkened corner of the church and sailing sublimely over the strings and voice as Riches assured us we would be ‘changed’. Stirring stuff!

And stir the choir, it did. While their performance showed all the signs of having been carefully rehearsed by Iain Cooper, the choir, too, achieved a genuine sense of spontaneity and engagement in the dramatic succession of Part II choruses — ‘Surely’, ‘And with his stripes’, ‘And we like sheep’, ‘He trusted in God’ and Lift up your head’ — culminating in a heartfelt ‘Hallelujah’. At their best when they trusted themselves to look up from their scores and take inspiration from their conductor, the members of the Bridgwater Choral Society ensured that we all went home having enjoyed our Christmas treat.

Review by: Julie Anne Sadie

Photo courtesy of: Ian Beech Images