What an occasion it was to be back for a wonderful performance of Handel’s Messiah by Lichfield Cathedral Chorus and Lichfield Camerata.
The sense of great joy permeated the evening – the joy of being back together, the joy of feeling totally comfortable with the excellent choice of music, and the sheer joy of singing together again to a most appreciative audience.
The structure of the work held together well, having been cleverly edited by conductor Ben Lamb to shorten it somewhat without destroying either the musical or textual flow.
All of the soloists had a fair crack of the whip and the resulting concert of just under two hours of music felt just right for the occasion.
Messiah is so well known that it would be all too easy to slip into old familiar ways, but new ideas of interpretation kept appearing. The very willing chorus took on board the light and effortless rapid runs in choruses such as For Unto Us and His Yoke Is Easy. The basses in particular were notable for their precision and lightness.
Ben’s attention to the real meaning of the words was well demonstrated in He Trusted In God, where the chorus became truly involved in the narrative.
Some relaxed rhythms also lent themselves to the text. The sometimes tortuously executed dotted rhythms of Behold the Lamb of God were smoothed out into a lilting flow which seemed much more natural and textually appropriate, as was the soprano aria Rejoice Greatly, which followed on from a beautifully executed Glory to God chorus with a delicious light ending.
The ensemble, though small, was in excellent balance with the choir. The fact that they were on the floor rather than on a platform blocking the sound from the singers also made for a significant improvement in the balance.
After a slightly sluggish start, the ensemble quickly settled into a cohesive group and the imaginative use of solo players for some of the aria accompaniments was inspired and gave freedom to the excellent players.
There was a lightness of touch, with well-blended trumpets where required and some lovely warm oboe playing, underpinned by Liam Condon’s sensitive continuo.
The first soloist, tenor William Edwards, immediately set a fresh, open tone to his performance with a clean sound and excellent diction – it would be interesting to hear him take the role of the Evangelist in other works some time.
Equally clear and pleasantly light was Fran Ambrose’s bass, singing the arias which particularly suited his range.
Outstanding amongst the soloists, however, was Caroline Halls, who gave a fresh and effortless account of her wide-ranging recitatives and arias to produce some exquisitely executed and appropriate baroque ornamentation.
This event was not only a welcome return to the familiar in many ways, but also a newly meaningful and carefully curated performance by these musicians, who to a man and woman helped us to feel truly thrilled by the experience of great live music once again.
This was not just a joyous occasion – it was a memorably fresh approach to a familiar work given by a dedicated choir who have weathered the storm and come out invigorated and refreshed.