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Auckland Choral’s magnificent Messiah

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Choral Image Iain Bremner

Handel’s Messiah

Auckland Choral with Piper Sinfonia

Auckland Town Hall,

December 18

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Last Sunday Auckland Choral returned after a year’s hiatus to present their annual Messiah, one of the great musical treats of the year and two hundred and eighty years after its first performance.

Although it is immensely popular, with great tunes the Messiah can be a challenge to make it a truly great experience.

The work has aspects of an opera but does not have an opera’s dramatic form.  There are no characters as such and no direct speech. The text provides insights into the spiritual, emotional and psychological dimensions of Christ’s life as well as the joys and struggles of mankind.  Part I deals with prophecies by Isaiah  and others and moves to the annunciation and the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels.  Part II concentrates on the Passion ending  with the Hallelujah Chorus. Part III covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in Heaven.

A great performance of the Messiah needs to have soloists who convey the various narrative lines and psychological nuances of the work, expressing aspects of the life of Christ as well as that of the common man. It also requires an orchestra of exceptional quality to provide the emotional content of the work.

With this year’s Messiah Auckland Choral and Pipers Sinfonia achieved that with an exhilarating display along with the four soloists: soprano Joanna Foote (replacing Isabella Moore), mezzo-soprano Kate Webber tenor Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono and Baritone James Harrison (replacing Benson Wilson).

The baritone has some of best tunes to sing in the Messiah and James Harrison gave them a fresh interpretation making him the stand-out appearance of the concert. His singing of “The people that walked in darkness”, exposed the dark and eerie quality of the oratorio and his “Why do the nations” sounded like a powerful revolutionary call to arms

Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono’s “Comfort ye” was well modulated showing a superbly controlled voice making his opening recitative a moving description. His dynamism did not extend throughout his singing and his second half “He that dwellith in heaven” lacked strength and precision.

Kate Webber lacked power in some of her early arias, but the richness of her voice was able to give an affecting performance notably with her anguished account of “He was despised and rejected of men”.

Joanna Foote had a great stage presence, but her voice was a bit too light in her early arias and in her more dramatic moment she seemed muted. She excelled in some of her singing notably in the duet “He Shall feed his His flock” while her singing “I know my redeemer livith” showed her ability to project and to use her luxurious voice to create an intimacy with the audience,

Conductor Uwe Grodd proved himself to be a conductor who thinks through the music. There was a balance between the various parts of the orchestra and between choir and orchestra which brought out the best in the music and the singers. The choir as usual turned on a polished performance in which individual voices surfaced and merged providing an opulence and majesty to the work. The choir was electrifying in some of its choruses, producing sounds which ranged from the light and sweet to the vibrant and dark.

While their singing of the Hallelujah Chorus was a highlight their singing of the section including “All we like sheep” was particularly thrilling and expressive.

Trumpeter Huw Dann gave a sensational performance in his “The trumpet will sound” ‘duet’ with James Harrison. This section which ends with the words “we shall be changed” seemed to be a more appropriate ending to the whole oratorio given the power of the two performers.

Organist Michael Bell gave an inspiring accompaniment with some thrilling, burnished sounds which heightened the drama of many of the choruses.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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