Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 13th December 2014:
The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus performance of Messiah is delightfully refreshing. Also performing is the small baroque orchestra Florilegium (with original instruments), which is beautifully shaped with finesse and elegance, taking hold of the drama of the piece, making it count for the big moments.
The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus was on superb form. Boasting a new chorus master, there is a new verve and sprightliness. Voices are incisive, full-toned and yet not overly sung. So lovely is the sound, that the full tone was occasionally withdrawn in favour of delicacy of expression, or eloquence of articulation and emphasis; the fugal counterpoint answering each other in bright conversation or celebration, and the hushed moments of polyphony dramatic and sensitive.
The solo singing was particularly beautiful from the tenor Ed Lyon, who combines beauty of tone with a powerful command of the drama. He seems to connect with musico-dramatic intentions in a way that eludes bass-baritone David Stout. The Mezzo-soprano Madeleine Shaw brings a sense of control with a pure and elegant sound that was an utter delight.
Soprano Elinor Rolfe Johnson, a last minute replacement, was young in sound and sense of command. With a rather nervous start, she was not quite at ease with the coloratura of ‘Rejoice Greatly’ at this particular performance. Yet as the evening went on it became evident that there is a beautiful, if at the moment quite vulnerable, sound emerging. ‘I Know That My Redeemer Liveth’ was particularly pleasing.
The orchestra was well drilled and expressive under the sure baton of David Hill who is at his best in this choral tradition (even if he wasn’t entirely sure where the interval was meant to be!) Catching the drive and shape of the piece as a whole, he brings a powerful sense not only of sublime individual items, but the magnificent declaration of faith that is as fresh today as when it was first written.
As if in agreement with this, the audience maintained the tradition of standing at the Hallelujah chorus as the original trumpets and a full throated chorus exuberantly sang out the universal song of highest praise.