Plymouth Philharmonic Choir unwrapped a special gift which lit up the Guildhall audience, performing a cracker of a concert. The special gift was Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. This oratorio is a work of genius and is truly a musical masterpiece. It was written in 1746 as a tribute to the Duke of Cumberland’s victory at the Battle of Culloden. The librettist, Thomas Morrell, took as a parallel, the highly emotive second century BCE story of the Syrian invaders of Judea who outlawed the Jewish religion, persecuting those who refused to obey and the ensuing battle and victory of the Jews led by Judas Maccabaeus.
Control and ability
Plymouth Philharmonic Choir excelled with their control and ability to communicate the extensive range of emotions. There was hushed solemnity in the opening chorus ‘Mourn, ye afflicted children’. The anguish and agony of the people, upon hearing news of a defeat at the hands of the invaders, was palpable in ‘Ah! Wretched, wretched Israel’. The intense, sorrowful melody was made more heartrending by the exquisite orchestral playing so ably led by Jonathan Storer. The sublime melody and legato singing in ‘Tune your harps’ contrasted with choruses signalling the call to arms and victory which were impactful with their high energy and drive.
There were star performances from all four soloists (Soprano: Natalie Montakhab, Mezzo-soprano: Kate Symonds-Joy, Tenor: Greg Tassell and Baritone: James Cleverton), who delivered a masterclass in the art of singing Handel’s music with rapid, breath-taking runs and soaring phrases of notes. They delighted and engaged the audience with their storytelling.
Christopher Fletcher, the choir’s Director of Music, employed all of his years of experience and expertise together with outstanding musical interpretation and leadership to deliver this performance. Ironically, 26 years ago, one of the choruses was used as an audition piece when Christopher was appointed to the role. It was a special moment, therefore, to come full circle and perform the work in its entirety and to such great acclaim from the audience.
Fred Gulliford, a regular concertgoer, commented: ‘What a great concert! I think that’s the best I’ve heard the choir sing. The balance was near perfect.’ Whilst John Hobbs who is the Director of Music for three South West choirs said, ‘The choir’s performance was absolutely splendid. I enjoyed it immensely, as did the audience around me, who cheered wildly at the end, and rightly so!’
top image: Natalie Montakhab, Kate Symonds-Joy, Greg Tassell and James Cleverton. Courtesy of Howard Perks
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