There’s a fine tradition of performing Handel’s Messiah with a brass band; and there’s an equally fine, if more recently re-established, tradition of performing it with a countertenor instead of a mezzo. It’s still fairly unusual, however, to hear the two things combined, as happened when the astonishing voice of Daniel Keating-Roberts soared over the Staffordshire Band in this performance by the Lichfield Cathedral Chorus under Ben Lamb.
But then, under Lamb’s direction, the LCC’s concerts are rarely predictable: in fact, Messiah has been something of a rarity in Lichfield in recent years. Instead, we’ve had Bach, Britten, a magical Finzi In Terra Pax, and earlier this year a really noble account of Elgar’s The Apostles. Nor did we get the full Messiah tonight; Part One plus the Hallelujah chorus formed the second half of a concert that began with John Rutter’s Walton-esque Gloria.
Energetically performed in Rutter’s original scoring, it highlighted one of the main issues of the evening: the brilliance of the Band’s playing, and in particular the crispness of its attack, proved difficult for the Chorus to match. Though that wasn’t so important in the numbers of Messiah where Martyn Rawles’ sensitive organ continuo served as the only accompaniment; or indeed, the big choruses, where the LCC’s impressive body of female voices rang brilliantly through the texture.
Bigger, wobblier, more shamelessly “inauthentic” solo voices might perhaps have made a better match with the brass, for all the clarity and beauty of tone provided by bass Philip Lancaster, tenor Robin Morton, soprano Sophie Gallagher and the evening’s star turn, Keating-Roberts. But you’d have to be the worst kind of gut-string purist not to respond to the verve that the Staffordshire Band brought to music that (for them) is presumably anything but hackneyed, or the sense of joy that lit up the whole performance. Authentic, schmauthentic: I loved it.