It is amazing to realise that Handel took only 24 days to write what must be the most well-loved oratorio in the repertoire. No Christmas is complete without performances of Messiah, with Friday’s offering from the fine City of Birmingham Choir delighting a full house at Symphony Hall (it was repeated on Tuesday at Birmingham Town Hall).
Unfortunately the enthusiastic audience also excelled in their own extraneous sound bites, disrupting every telling pause in the score with unrestrained coughs and voluble winter extremes. Performers never succumb to such excesses, so why do listeners indulge in this behaviour?
Beautifully and sensitively supported by the CBSO, the chorus was in fine voice throughout. Brilliant neat running quavers, shivers up the spine fugal passages with familiar choruses thrilling with intensity and sparkling commitment. It is reassuring to see and hear a wide age range in this large choir.
Tenor James Oxley set the scene with warmth, aided by delicate consideration from conductor Adrian Lucas. Drama was Alan Ewing’s forte, his full bass voice shaking the heavens with vigour, only to become somewhat worrying with wavering intonation at the top of his register towards the end of the performance. An operatic approach from soprano Claire Wild was inappropriate for the most part as she communicated a certain angst by her agitated approach. A sweet alto voice failed to convey much expression from Frances Bourne, with ‘despised and rejected’ sounding like the opening of a tiresome shopping list.
Luckily Jonathan Holland’s trumpet rang out nobly and there were lovely flowing continuos from various instrumentalists. A conductor can only go so far in pulling together diverse forces, but there was never any doubt about inspired communication with his splendid chorus.
Rating * * * *