The Herald – Handel’s Messiah at The Usher Hall – 4 Stars – 2010
This review — by Arts Editor, Keith Bruce — was originally published on The Herald’s Website on Sunday, 3 January 2010.
In one sense, it was like they’d never been away.
The restoration of the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union’s annual Messiah to the Usher Hall is confirmation that the capital’s majestic concert hall is once again open for business.
But in another way, so much has changed since I first attended a New Year concert.
Knowledge of “period” performance is now part of the approach of every chorister and instrumentalist on stage, and it shows in every note and every syllable. The quartet of soloists not only sang beautifully (after a couple of cracked notes in the opening recitative from possibly less-than-fully-fit tenor Simon Wall) but enunciated with wonderful clarity. Carolyn Dobbin’s He Was Despised and the How Beautiful Are The Feet of Joanne Boag (Scottish Opera’s Katya) were highlights, but the very relaxed style of bass-baritone James Birchall was the welcome newer voice to me.
Both choir and band, however, were what made this Messiah such a success. There was a feeling that this scale of performance is ideal for both the music and the venue. Of course, “The Choral” could do with a few more tenors (outnumbered more than 2 to 1 by basses), but chorusmaster Michael Bawtree has the measure of his forces and there was never any suspicion that they were singing anything but within their capabilities. The great Part 2 trio of choruses from Surely, He Hath Borne Our Griefs to All We Like Sheep was testament to that.
The Edinburgh Pro Music Orchestra, a scratch band led by Lise Aferiat and including familiar faces like Alba Quartet leader Liam Lynch and BBC SSO principal trumpet Mark O’Keefe, was every bit as true, precise and appropriate to a beautifully balanced performance.
Star rating: ****