Handel’s Messiah at St Peter’s Cathedral, December 22 & 23, 2023

Image of Messiah manuscript

Handel wrote his masterpiece, The Messiah, in 22 days and he said it was inspired by God. He was often so moved that the tears fell. 

Its first performance at Easter 1742 in Dublin, was a moderate success and subsequent performances in London were revised, adapted to circumstances and personalities, so it is difficult to describe an authentic Messiah!

The performance on Friday, December 22nd was performed with minimal resources. The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra had 11 string players, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets, bassoon, theorbo, timpani and organ. The St Peter’s Consort was a choir of 19. All was directed from the harpsichord by the dynamic Anthony Hunt. This was ideal for the resonant space of St Peter’s Cathedral and allowed for a sensitive, nuanced performance that was rapturously received.

The soloists sat to the side, which made sense as they have few solos. The orchestra and choir are the main performers and the precision of the ensemble, the flow of their pieces, the considered dynamics and sensitive phrasing kept one enthralled. One had the feeling that all the performers were of one mind. Specific details, such as short or long endings, ’happened’. The immediacy and drive of the fast tempi were homogeneous; the sometimes extreme dynamic changes spontaneous, the seamless blending of the recitatives with continuo; the concordant first violins; the woodwind, brass and timpani’s underpinning of the choir; the transparent harmonies and lightness of the moving parts; it was a delight to witness.
The 4 soloists provided uplifting interludes. Andrew Goodwin’s first entry was a call to mankind: his liquid tenor voice was natural and affirmative in all his solos. The rich contralto voice of Sally–Anne Russell was so moving in her emotional arias. Her reassuring introduction of “He shall feed his flock” was superbly echoed and confirmed by Jessica Dean’s glorious soprano voice. The arresting bass voice of Pelham Andrews was especially superb in “The Trumpet Shall Sound” accompanied by the sweet, golden sound of the Baroque trumpet played by Leanne Sullivan.
The whole performance had an urgency and drive interspersed with periods of calm and reflection. There was a freshness and buoyancy; the bass line was especially audible with the combination of celli, bass, bassoon & organ, it was like the motor. Then the oboes & trumpets enhancement of the choir voices and the combination of all the forces, including timpani, in the grand choruses – it was riveting! Congratulations to all concerned.


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