The Herald – Handel’s Messiah at The Usher Hall – 4 Stars – 2012

This review — by Arts Editor, Keith Bruce — was originally published on The Herald’s Website on Tuesday, 3 January 2012.

Following current cinema fashion, this was a gloriously 3D Messiah.

From John Kitchen’s presence on the Usher Hall’s restored organ through the ranks of the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, where a few younger voices had been invited to bolster the men, and the Edinburgh Pro Musica Orchestra, to a very fine quartet of soloists, this was Handel’s masterpiece in all its glory.

“Authentic” is a debatable description, by there was certainly enough period detail in the precise playing of the instrumentalists (the strings consistently crisp) and in the presence of counter-tenor Andrew Radley.

There might be more bite in a mezzo’s delivery, but his presence, and the contrast with full-voiced soprano Kate Valentine better suited the tonal range of the whole piece. That multi-dimensionality was continued in the way she stepped back to partner orchestra leader Lise Aferiat for her last aria (If God be for us, who can be against us), in the dramatic performances of tenor James Greer (a product of the RSAMD opera course) and Scots baritone Richard Morrison throughout, and in the continuo playing of Morley Whitehead at the harpsichord and cellist John Davidson. All the vocal soloists showed invention in their ornamentation without overdoing it, the best moment a lovely bluesy chromaticism Radley added to the end of He was despised.

In other words, no matter what sort of Messiah you like, you were likely to find it here, under the baton of ERCU chorus master Michael Bawtree. Despite a little raggedness at moments – present in all voices, but most noticable in the sopranos – the choir was in fine, and well-balanced, voice, particularly in the sequence of Part Two showpieces culminating in Hallelujah.

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