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Lutterworth and District Choral Society Registered Charity number 1048089


‘Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing.’  William Byrd

Handels’s Messiah

23 November 2013


The pews weren’t crammed but comfortably full, with extra chairs needed, when the church played host yesterday for a very well received performance of most of Handel’s Messiah. In addition to four vocal soloists, two trumpeters and a timpanist were used to add particular tonal colour to the organ accompaniment.

The choir made a good sound throughout, singing with warm toned enthusiasm. Also, and maybe a little surprising, considering the significant difference in numbers between male and female voices, the balance was acceptable with no forcing by the men. One of the most important things to say early in this report is that the words were clearly articulated almost

throughout. Of course, in contrapuntal passages where different voices have different words the effect becomes a welter of sound but this is the composer’s desired effect. One particular weakness, though, was the way in which both sopranos and tenors struggled for higher notes. It wasn’t that the pitch was at fault; rather that the faulty production caused poor tone, lacking in brilliance when it was most needed.

Part 1 is concerned with the promise and subsequent birth of the Messiah. Most of the singing was secure, though some of the runs in ‘For unto us’ became ragged.  However, when we moved to Part 2 the performance moved up several gears, gaining considerably in both character and confidence from the very first note of ‘Behold, the Lamb’. The exception in this part of the work was the fugal music where both clarity and security of musical lines were lost sometimes. Was there, perhaps, a perception that this sort of music is difficult to master and because it’s also structurally complicated we aren’t allowed to enjoy it as much as more homophonic numbers?  Also to be noted was that where some choirs perform ‘Surely’ in the French style with double dotted rhythms, on this occasion the rhythm was at the other extreme - more relaxed than the score suggests, sounding like 12/8. This is more a matter of taste, however.

Following the interval the choir had to wait a while for their first number, ‘Their Sound is Gone Out’. The break caused no loss of engagement with the music and from their opening chord the choir sang with both strength and energy. There is always a danger that because everyone knows it, the ‘Hallelujah’ will receive less attention than is due, but not on this occasion. Some fine chording here and a grand climax.

Part 3 continued in the same vein as Part 2. Clean chording for the two short soft elements in ‘Since by Man’ was marked with sharply contrasted vigour for the louder ones. ‘But Thanks’ was something of a black sheep in this section, lacking the confidence of the other numbers. ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ and ‘Amen’ rounded off the evening with style and ensured that the audience left feeling they had had a good time.

It would be most unjust to omit mention of the excellent accompaniment provided by Ivan Linford. Steady as a rock throughout, his playing was always neat and stylish. The small but significant contributions by the trumpeters, Lorna Bumford and Ben Chinery, and by the timpanist, Colin Goldsmith, were also of consistently high quality.

Unfortunately, the four vocal soloists had problems in varying degrees. While they all have voices of quality and suitable vocal agility for music of this style, Ann and Derek Nurse, respectively soprano and tenor, sometimes sing out of tune. Ann’s problem is in the upper register where she almost invariably sings sharp; Derek is insecure somewhat less often and in no particular part of the range. Robert Clark, the baritone, has variable tonal character depending on the register and is sometimes rhythmically uncertain in more florid styles. While Alison York’s quite rich Mezzo Soprano sometimes lost the clarity of line a little, overall her singing had most assurance. All this said, all four singers gave serviceable performances and, judging from accounts of what Handel himself encountered with some of those involved in early rehearsals and performances which he directed, I imagine he would have been well pleased with much of what yesterday’s singers provided! It was a shame that there was no consistency between the four regarding ornamentation which ranged from non-existent through conservative to quite adventurous (and stylish).

The whole performance was ably directed from the podium by Alan Barraclough, the society’s Musical Director. He gives an unfailingly clear beat and makes considerable and appropriate demands of his resources. It’s a pity that at times some of the choir members watch him less than they might do, thereby missing some of the finesse in his direction.

I am truly grateful to have been asked to attend and report on this performance and hope that my comments will be read in the spirit with which they have been made: the endeavour to encourage all music makers to aspire to the very highest standards of which they are capable and to find ways of achieving this challenging goal. I have no doubt that last night’s audience went home feeling well pleased they had spent the evening in such splendid company: wonderful music being performed by people who are dedicated to its continuing lively existence.

 

William Tomkins BEd MA FTCL LMusTCL  24/xi/13