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Review: Handel’s Messiah by Ex Cathedra at Symphony Hall

 Ex Cathedra Choir and Baroque Orchestra under conductor Jeffrey Skidmore delivered a slimmed-down, energetic and historically-informed reading of Handel’s Messiah

Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor for Ex Cathedra.

Over the years I’ve heard Messiah choirs with wince-inducing sopranos and superannuated basses.

Not here – we had clarity of diction, sensitivity to the text, energy and well-focused sound from top to bottom from around 50 singers. They were always a joy to hear– whether light and lithe (All we, like sheep) or sombre and powerful (Behold the Lamb of God).

The small band gave firm support with neat if not always particularly characterful playing.

Elizabeth Drury (soprano) was a balm for the ear and spirit with fast, accurate and even runs even in Handel’s most florid writing (Rejoice greatly) which sounded truly felt rather than just vocalized.

Martha McLorinan’s vibrant mezzo-soprano conveyed well the pathos of He was despised.

Matthew Venner’s alto while light and flexible sounded very small, even competing with a tiny instrumental ensemble. The basses Greg Skidmore and Edward Grint were firm and reliable: I particularly enjoyed the latter’s the people that walked where the sepulchral “darkness” was really sung not just growled.

Sad to say, I took little pleasure in the singing of Argentinean soprano María Cristina Kiehr – perhaps she was having bad day – who sounded tremulous and occasionally flat.

Chilean tenor Rodrigo del Pozo’s singing was circumspect and his English vowels mangled or (since it’s the season of good will) his pronunciation was idiosyncratic.

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