The Herald – Handel’s Messiah at The Usher Hall – 4 Stars – 2011

This review — by Arts Editor, Keith Bruce — was originally published on The Herald’s Website on Tuesday, 4 January 2011.

As befits a former King’s Singer and choral specialist, broadcaster Brian Kay has two distinct registers on the podium.

His baton-free conducting style has a waist-height level of rhythmic guidance for the orchestra and a more expressive shoulder level mode for the choir. For his guest appearance directing Edinburgh Royal Choral Union’s annual New Year performance of Handel’s masterpiece it was a technique that brought together a quality set of ingredients in a fine performance.
The chamber ensemble trading as Edinburgh Pro Musica Orchestra was precise and sensitive to dynamic instruction, with principle cello John Davidson making a memorable contribution to the continuo playing alongside the harpishord of Morley Whitehead and chorus director Michael Bawtree at the organ, particularly on O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion. The soloists were as characterful a quartet as one might wish for, young Handelian soprano Ruby Hughes and RSAMD post-grad bass Michel da Souza (shortly to be seen in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen) matching one another in theatrical delivery and alto Diana Moore and Canadian tenor Daniel Auchincloss favouring a more relaxed style. Superb diction was common to all, as was a uniformly restrained approach to ornament. Moore’s daringly softly sung, but full-voiced, He Was Despised was a model of the confident approach all four displayed.

Although it can now boast just four first tenors, the choir is still showing the benefits of Bawtree’s directorship and Kay’s balancing of all the forces made Part One (including a longer version of the Pastoral Symphony interlude) bowl along in fine style.

Proceedings were not as flawless after the interval with a few ragged edges, particularly among the basses, in the sequence of choruses at the start of Part Two and Kay’s grasp of the structure of the programme not as sound as earlier. After the Hallelujah chorus all was well, Hughes delivering I Know That My Redeemer Liveth with wide-eyed wonder and da Souza triumphant on The Trumpet Shall Sound.

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