Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Handel’s Messiah @ Royal Albert Hall, London

16 April 2006

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: David Levene/Royal Albert Hall)

Easter would hardly be Easter without a performance of Handel’s Messiah. And this rendition, given by the Royal Choral Society and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, was as moving and thrilling as one could possibly hope.

The famous overture started excellently, with spine-tingling trills from the strings. The ensuing tenor Recitative and Aria, ‘Comfort Ye My People… Ev’ry Valley’, was very well sung indeed, Andrew Staples demonstrating his superb control over dynamics and vibrato – something which he continued to do well throughout the rest of the performance.

The solo bass performance that followed was nothing short of amazing. Michael Pearce‘s immense projection and intensity, not to mention his capacity to bring out contrasts in the text, made both ‘Why do the nations’ and ‘The trumpet shall sound’ memorable.

The support of the Royal Philharmonic was also immense, coming in at the perfect dynamics and with flawless control.

Equally worthy of mention are the two remaining soloists. Mezzo-soprano Louise Poole‘s vibrato was a bit extreme for my personal preference, but nonetheless she gave a fulfilling performance. In spite of her vibrato, her voice was very clear, something which distinguishes world-class performers from lesser singers.

Soprano Mary Nelson, who of course does not get a solo until half way through Part One, also gave a mammoth performance. Her ability to support her singing at high notes over long phrases, and the plain joy one feels when listening to her, is miraculous. Those attending her performance of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the BBC Proms this summer will definitely have something to look forward to.

The choir also sang the choruses very well. In the first, ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed’, the sopranos easily negotiated the high As, which is truly a sign of quality within the ranks of the Royal Choral Society. The rigorous training of the choir also demonstrated itself in the perfect melisma in the chorus ‘For unto us a child is born’; its complex fugue subject was tackled with unusual flair.

The ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, for which we all stood up (despite there being no evidence that the King was actually at the original performance of Messiah at Covent Garden, whence the tradition is supposedly derived), was also riveting, and the Royal Choral Society lived up to expectation. The only one issue I had with the entire performance was the fact that the timpanist miscounted the slowing down ending of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, but considering the quality of the rest of the performance, I think he can well be forgiven.

The orchestra also supported very well, as mentioned before. Much of the quality of the performance owes itself to their high standard and Richard Cooke’s abilities to bring out contrasts in colour, texture and dynamics. Organist Richard Pearce also did an impressive job, despite the fact that the wind sounds in the organ at the Royal Albert Hall are not the easiest in the world to deal with. Harpsichordist John Birch also gave a sensitive performance in the Basso Continuo role.

In all, a wonderful performance. I eagerly await the next RCS and RPO collaboration in Orff’s Carmina Burana on Sunday 29 Oct 2006.

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