Widely known and performed the world over, Handel's magnificent Messiah (though originally intended to be performed at Easter), has become synonymous with Christmas. Religiously inclined or not, the Messiah symbolises love and its timelessness continues to inform modern society with its voice of hope.
On Saturday evening, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra generously shared the work's affirmative essence, sung to scriptural text arranged by Charles Jennens and given an incisive and graceful interpretation under conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini. Eschewing any hint of pomposity, the meditative and joyous emerged effectively from the comforting regimental punctuated rhythms and underlying exuberance that characterised the musicianship of the near 50 players. Overall, a greater sense of musical breathing and elasticity was achieved in parts two and three.
Embedded is that great swell of glory in the "Hallelujah" chorus that closes the second part. And it soared divinely. As the champions of the stage, numbering 60 and expertly prepared by Warren Trevelyan-Jones, the MSO Chorus impressed with their dexterity and interconnectivity, the sopranos particularly shining with crystal cut class. What was otherwise given an all-important focus on clear diction overall, a light rawness at times, however, came from the male chorus.
Amongst the four strong soloists who added weight to the score's operatic signature, despite variability in projection, two thrilling highlights of the night included the strident and authoritative opening from muscular and youthful-voiced British tenor Ed Lyon with "Ev'ry valley" and an enriched and profoundly affecting "He was despised" from the brooding and velvety mezzo-soprano Joslyn Rechter. Lyon especially appeared assured and consistent throughout, the later "Thou shalt break them" delivered with suave soldierly urgency.
Starry bright soprano Sara Macliver put to eerily appropriate use her porcelain-fine top range in "Rejoice greatly" and Italian bass Salvo Vitale brought rich and succulent vigour to his "Thus saith the Lord" but rather let sag the regality and depth of “The trumpet shall sound”.
Just to add, without pointing the finger, soloists looking fully engaged with the moment when not singing assist greatly in creating a more visually satisfying experience. A small quibble because by the time the chorus sang the mighty closing “Worthy is the Lamb” and final tidal "Amen" the ebullience etched itself majestically, making an approaching Christmas so much more potent than all the tinsel and baubles decorating the city.
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
9th & 10th December