To Messiah, or not – that’s the annual dilemma for choirs as Christmas approaches.
Plymouth Philharmonic Choir’s conductor Christopher Fletcher solved this very effectively, by combining Part One with excerpts from Part Three, thereby shortening things considerably. But by further sharing choruses between choir and soloists, the whole dynamic changed, and listeners were able to enjoy the far greater mobility and lineal clarity this produced.
For this to work though, it required four soloists not only with the usual staying-power, but moreover prepared to take on quite a bit more work on the night. In Katie Trethewey (soprano), Jeanette Ager (contralto), James Cleverton (bass), and especially tenor Peter Willman – standing in at the last moment for indisposed Paul Austin Kelly – they could scarcely have found better.
Shortening Messiah also meant that the second half could be given over to Howard Goodall’s Requiem: Eternal Light – an unashamedly melodious work full of glorious textures, styles and effects. Here, as in Messiah, the unexpectedly brightly-clad singers were in top form, and even if there was the slightest pitch issue near the end, this certainly didn’t detract from their poignant and emotionally-charged performance.
The audience demanded more, of course – and was justly rewarded with the Hallelujah Chorus, where Mary Eade’s first-rate orchestra was again bolstered by the inimitable trumpet-playing of Dave Shead – and altogether the perfect gift for this 1st Sunday of Advent.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
(image: Plymouth Philharmonic Choir Soloists (L-R) – Katie TretheweyJeanette Auger Peter Willman James Cleverton)