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Review: Black Dyke Band and Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, Handel’s Messiah, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday, December 8, 2018

A PERFORMANCE of Handel’s sacred oratorio with the orchestral accompaniment replaced by a brass band is probably anathema to purists. I have to say that, for me and I sensed many others, the Black Dyke Band’s lightness of touch and the golden sonorities these gifted musicians produced were revelatory.

Dr Dennis Wright’s acclaimed transcription was first performed in 1951 by the then Black Dyke Mills Band with the Halifax Choral Society. This venerable community choir, the country’s oldest, has notched up two hundred consecutive annual performance of Messiah. Last Saturday, forty members joined Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and the Dortmund Music Society Philharmonic Choir. The massed voices conducted by David Hill, “the Phil’s” music director, produced a focused tone with myriad dynamic shading, suppleness of phrasing and seemingly bottomless reserves of power.

This was a full bodied Messiah delivered with startling clarity and textural variety. Vocal and instrumental lines were consummately delineated by Dr Hill who scrupulously maintained balance between band, choirs and vocal soloists. The lightness of accompaniment to soprano Fflur Wyn’s radiant recitatives was striking. So too was bass Ben McAteer’s sonorous The Trumpet, Shall Sound. Mezzo soprano Caitlin Hulcup’s tender He was despised and rejected had both depth and poignancy, while tenor Joshua Ellicott’s Comfort ye my People soared eloquently.

Messiah’s great chorus, embellished by the glorious sounds of Leeds Town Hall’s organ played by Alan Horsey, perhaps left the most enduring images of this shining performance – or for that matter any performance of Messiah. The power and majesty of the Hallelujah Chorus with its trumpets and timpani, and Worthy is the Lamb which culminated in Dr Hill’s thrilling build-up of the stupendous Amen Chorus.

Geoffrey Mogridge

Geoffrey Mogridge Wharfedale Observor