Musicians and audiences never tire of Handel’s Messiah, and last Saturday it was given exultant, thrilling new life by Battle Choral Society.
Messiah is the most famous work in the oratorio repertoire: rich with wonderful evocative music and great span of emotion. But Handel’s original work has, over the years, been at the mercy of the huge-scale approach, from the Victorians to Huddersfield Choral Society. But director John Langridge rediscovers the essence...This is not Victorian but Baroque music, where you always lift the upbeats, and you never beat four in a bar where two will suffice, and where semi-quaver runs are never swamped in a flood of noise.
John is the ideal director for major choral works. His beat is clear and assured overall, the touch is lighter when necessary, and he has that knack of steering the music rather than towing the singers and players.
Large amateur choirs, however fine their sound, can be unwieldy. A Doppler effect between sopranos and basses? One tempo from the conductor’s baton and another from the altos? Not this performance: Battle Choral were 80 voices in perfect discipline and immaculate timing. The 20-strong professional orchestra gave assured support, and superb soloists set a high standard. Soprano Grace Constable sang warmly with just enough decoration. Emily Steventon’s mezzo was lyrical and expressive, in particular with a wrenching He Was Despised. Gary Marriott brought effortless range and phrasing to the tenor solos, and Michael White’s bass arias had a rich operatic quality.
Chorus highlights abounded, and they captured the work’s broad range of emotions. Surely was impassioned and anguished, O Thou That Tellest simply danced, and the final Worthy is the Lamb and Amen chorus had massive, triumphant power. Handel does not compromise, and he leaves performers and audience alike exhausted but fulfilled.
On nights like this, music is more than notes on a stave. It is music, indeed, with the power to heal a troubled world and – for those of religious faith – to touch the intangible. This was a magnificent Messiah. By Kevin Anderson