Handel’s Messiah, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 10th December 2016:
Ever since the premiere of Handel’s Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin on 13th April 1742, performances of this beloved work have veered between modesty of scale and overblown grandeur.
The crispness of groundbreaking recordings conducted by Colin Davis and Charles Mackerras in the 1960s ushered in “historically informed performances” with far fewer singers and instrumentalists. Last Saturday’s performance by Leeds Philharmonic Chorus deployed a relatively large number of around ninety choristers
The International Baroque Players led by Jorge Jimenez comprised just eighteen strings, two oboes, bassoon, small timpani and two trumpets. A more authentic baroque style was achieved by using short instrument bows, gut strings and natural (baroque) trumpets instead of valved instruments. The fresh, vibrato-less sound produced by these virtuosic musicians was quite exhilarating. Alan Horsey suppled both the fluid harpsichord continuo and, for the big choruses, subtle support from the organ of Leeds Town Hall.
The choral strands were cleanly articulated; balance between choir and instrumental ensemble was consummately managed by David Hill, “the Phil’s” music director. Hill’s flexible tempi propelled the choruses along and allowed the soloists space to colour their lines. For unto us a child is born had a buoyancy befitting one of the most joyful choruses ever written. The Hallelujah Chorus, embellished by the striking sonic effect of natural trumpets, really made the eyes prick. A majestic-sounding Worthy is the Lamb culminated in the stupendous Amen chorus.
The quartet of carefully blended soloists were uniformly excellent: Soprano Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson’s articulation and purity of tone conveyed sheer joy in her recitative And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them. Young countertenor James Hall – expect to hear much more of him – was heart rending in his plangent account of He was despised. Tenor Andrew Tortise coloured with sorrow Thy rebuke hath broken His heart; the velvet tones of bass Philip Smith infused his lines with a sense of mystery. An appreciative audience displayed joy unconfined at the end of a remarkable concert.
Ilkley Gazette, 22nd December 2016