Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unified strength prevails in MSO's concert performance of Handel's Messiah: Herald Sun Review

FROM its modest 1742 premiere, Handel’s great oratorio and one of classical music’s best known works, Messiah has cast itself in Western music culture and, as the festive season barrels towards Christmas, it spikes to make its annual appearance.

The numbers involved in its performance vary and often swell to several hundred but there exists no definitive Messiah. If Saturday evening’s Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s historically informed performance achieved one thing, it was through the powerfully absorbing and reverently handled nature of the work under the guidance of conductor Paul Goodwin.

Sung from scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens, Messiah is rich in Handel’s operatic signature and composed in three parts for four soloists and chorus — prophecy of Christ’s birth and nativity, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and, finally, victory over death. On Saturday night, its beauty was illuminated by Goodwin’s astuteness in harnessing the vocal and musical forces and crafting them with appealing balance. What resulted was an interpretation, diction-clear across the board, which transcends religious and ecclesiastical pomp to deliver a performance buttressed with meditative poignancy and universality.

The 40-plus MSO musicians maintained superb support for the excellence and fastidiousness on display from the little over 100 orderly and time-perfect MSO Chorus, impressively prepared by chorus master Warren Trevelyan-Jones. A unified strength prevailed. Soloists Christopher Richardson, Charles Daniels, Luciana Mancini and Emma Matthews were splendid in voice and apart from Daniels’s persistence in distractingly turning pages of his score with head lowered, all were deferentially bound to the whole.

With a near-packed Hamer Hall standing for the great “Hallelujah” chorus, a fine magisterial elegance resonated without any bombastic attitude, the voices suspended divinely over a bed of music on which even the clarion trumpet mannerly nudged itself. The delicacy and finely threaded chorus work in “For unto us a child is born” was particularly resplendent for its smooth graduation and uplift as was “He trusted in God” with its thoughtful pacing and sublime bleeding vocal parts.

Effervescent soprano Emma Matthews’s adeptly controlled phrasing, crystal clarity and accomplished ornamentation came with spirited delivery. Later, an enchanting, lulling evenness was brought to “I know that my Redeemer liveth”.

Noticeably engaged with the awe of the work and her audience, mezzo-soprano Luciana Mancini’s performance came with heartfelt conviction to the text. Plush-voiced and effortlessly strident in the lower range, Mancini’s fiercely sung “He was despised” was so compelling that pleas for humanitarianism and moral deliverance rang loud and clear.

Smooth, dark and resonant bass Christopher Richardson was outstanding throughout, his final “The trumpet shall sound” noble and assured with a comforting vocal flexibility that even his colleagues clearly delighted in.

And despite looking clearly on his own path, character-rich tenor Charles Daniels transformed with gusto, opening Part the First with a strikingly multifaceted “Comfort ye” and “”Ev’ry valley”, ranging from silken to silty toned and bringing much liveliness to his part.

When the untiring expertise of the MSO Chorus reached to a mighty “Worthy is the Lamb” and the final tidal splendour of “Amen”, they further elevated the evening in a concert already full of polish and glorious in issuing its voice of hope. Let the festive season resonate.


Arts Centre Melbourne until 11th December

Rating: four stars

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