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Review: Handel’s Messiah, City of Birmingham Choir at Symphony Hall

Maggie Cotton reviews Handel’s Messiah by the City of Birmingham Choir at the Symphony Hall.

Handel’s Messiah, City of Birmingham Choir at Symphony Hall
****

“I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better.” Thus spoke Handel after taking only three weeks to compose one of the world’s greatest choral works; the magnificent oratorio Messiah, loved and revered since 1741.

Adrian Lucas conducted the large City of Birmingham Choir, taking full advantage of Symphony Hall’s fine acoustics from rafters ringing to quiet magical hushed tones. Tenor James Oxley had the least to convey solo-wise, but was constant in his involvement and communication skills: clear text, expressive phrasing, well-balanced and totally musical.

Stoically complemented by a reduced CBSO, there seemed however, to be a worrying imbalance between the 20 or so violins and small numbers of lower strings. Underlying continuos from accompanying Thomas Trotter on harpsichord and/or Roger Judd’s chamber organ seemed at times to be on quasi automatic pilot.

A strong bass delivered splendid recitatives –Alex Ashworth certainly entered into Handel’s spirited account of God’s wrath, darkness and fire –.eventually being joined by Jonathan Holland’s sparkling triumphant trumpet.

Lovely voices from both women soloists, but again, balance for soprano Helen-Jane Howells was not convincing and significant alto inclusions by Hannah Pedly were disappointing. Much more feeling was needed

Thankfully the choir rose to the occasion magnificently and sent us home with their splendid “Amens” ringing in our ears.

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