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

This review — by Kelly Apter — was originally published on The Scotsman’s Website on Wednesday, 4 January 2012.

THE Edinburgh Royal Choral Union’s New Year rendition of Handel’s Messiah isn’t so much a concert as a happening. Orchestras with international reputations can fail to sell out the Usher Hall, but this amateur choir has it stuffed to the gunnels year on year.

Coolbags in hand, the crowds arrived excitedly, greeting friends and planning where to meet during the extended interval. Forget Hogmanay, for many Edinburgh residents 2012 started here.

But while the lively picnics that take place after Part One are a key aspect to this annual event, none of it would work were it not for the quality of music on stage. In the capable hands of conductor Michael Bawtree, 99 choral singers gave their all. Each year there are subtle changes, keeping both them and us interested.

This time, Part One came in at a perfectly pitched 55 minutes, the only downside being the lack of input from expressive tenor James Geer – a man who had the audience eating out of his hand. Happily, we heard much more from him after the interval.

He was joined by soprano Kate Valentine, who sang straight to our hearts, Scottish baritone Richard Morrison, imbuing his lines with a dramatic gravitas, and countertenor Andrew Radley, whose plaintive opening to Part Two came with a real sense of pain.

As always, the Edinburgh Pro Musica Orchestra was on top form, and by the time the Chorus delivered the rousing Amen section, the door to the New Year had been well and truly blown open.

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