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Review: A Bright Messiah for June

Photos by Johnny Bugeja

By Christopher Wall
Harmonics and Incantus Choirs combined with an orchestra from La Linea's Conservatorio Muñoz Molleda for a singular presentation of Handel’s Messiah.

The Mozart orchestration, less familiar to English-speaking audiences than native performing conventions, allowed a generous woodwind section, which occasionally threatened to drown out solo vocalists.

And though this “Sacred Oratorio” presented a coherent entertainment of an evening, we lost such favourites as “Why do the nations rage so furiously together?”

So this was not an Advent Messiah for the CD-bound purist, though full of the life and joy that have kept Handel a mainstay of the Anglophone choral repertoire.

The opening overture, under conductor Luis Rubio, struck me as rather solemn, like a ponderous procession in Semana Santa, at odds with the Anglican setting of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, and a reminder of the many ways Handel may be interpreted.

Tenor Phillip Borge brought us back to familiar territory with a soaring “Every valley shall be exalted”.

Messiah is all about chorus, and our choirs were always able to sing above the orchestra, revelling in harmonic effects from “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” onwards.

“And he shall purify” was an early highlight.

Alto Anthony Roper rolled the lines of “But who may abide?” rather smoothly, while Bass Colin Skinner evoked a prophetic air in “The people that walked in darkness”.

I was especially impressed by Soprano Luisa Boselli, whose accounts of the shepherds were consistently otherworldly.

The second part opened with a beautiful choral rendition of “Behold the Lamb of God”.

Mr Roper showed his dramatic range by following a sweetly sorrowful “He was despised” with a pained “He hid not his face”.

Mr Borge succeeded more great choral work with a soothing “But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell”, before Ms Boselli raised the tone with “How beautiful”, succeeded by the stand-up showpiece “Hallelujah”.

Mr Borge rang “The trumpet shall sound” against a fine orchestral soloist. Mr Roper managed to make “If God is for us” sound warm and sweet, preparing for the triumphant tone of the magnificent final choruses, which projected an unrushed stillness into eternity.

It may not have been the Handel we’re used to, but I look forward to more collaborations of this kind.

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