It was nice to see the continuation of performances of baroque works in the setting of Durham Castle’s Great Hall. Following on from the Bach for Lent and Easter by Dunelm Consort we move from the works of Bach to those of his rival Handel, in the next edition of Durham’s own modern choral rivalry between Jonathan Allsopp and this evening’s conductor William Ford. Regarded by many as one of the world’s most recognisable choral pieces, Handel’s Messiah certainly represents a brave choice for Castle Chapel and Compline Choirs yet undoubtedly a crowd pleaser if performed correctly.
Commendation should go to William Ford for guiding his 26 strong choir through this work. The beautiful blend achieved from the chorus was certainly impressive, effortlessly weaving all the different passages around the choir, his only issue was controlling the balance between orchestra and singers at times. The highlight of the Hallelujah Chorus left delighted smiles all across the hall, William controlled the eagerness of choir to reach the end, although perhaps more emphasis could have been achieved if he pushed his singers further in the big finish.
It was genius programming to offer as many members of this experienced choir a solo opportunity and each and every soloist made a very solid attempt to tackle Handel. Congratulations must go to Thomas Brooke, Tom Atherton, Georgia Schneider, Charles Jefford, Jessica Christy, Rachel Newell, Bill Goss, Sam Kibble, Joachim Sabbat & Matthew Asquith for their efforts.
Emer Acton shone as the soprano of the evening, whos How beautiful are the Feet carried perfectly above the orchestra, lifting audience heads to stare in wonder at her seemingly effortless performance. She lyrically told the beginnings of Jesus’ gospel teachings in a cut down scene five.
Phil Durrant, the new star of Durham’s musical scene, didn’t miss his opportunity to astound again leading the build up to the Hallelujah. Durrant commanded the audience throughout Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, with his now renowned big sound he filled the hall
The standout of the whole concert was once again James MacTavish with his refreshing Counter Tenor voice. His version of He was despised and rejected of men was absolutely captivating and I couldn’t look away as he flew through the longest single item in the oratorio in what seemed like no time at all.
Extra commendation should also go to Fiona Brindle’s pure vocals, Hannah Cox’s confident performance and Lydia Carr’s commanding role in He Shall feed his flock like a Shepherd.
This performance would not have been possible or nearly as impressive without the secure backing of the orchestra. With a stand out performance from Noah Lawrence on trumpet added the final flourish to the concluding notes of the pieces. Toby Cowling skill on Timpani also made a huge addition, filling the vast hall particularly in the Hallelujah Chours. The whole performance was held securely together by the solid work of both Josh Ridley on Harpsichord and Sarah Fretwell on Cello, anchoring and providing a solid base for, not only for the rest of the orchestra, but the singers too.
This was a more than simply a good attempt at Handel’s Messiah. Although with the occasional inconsistent soloist, given the standard of the orchestra and many of the terrific solos, overall, this piece could have been considered near perfection.