No Christmas season is complete without hearing Handel’s Messiah. Yesterday I went with my parents to the beautiful Town Hall, Sydney, where Sabine was part of the mass choir at the 66th annual presentation. This was the Sunday afternoon matinée.
The performance was in many ways different than what you usually hear in continental Europe. It is an English tradition to invite pretty much anyone willing to participate in the choir. This makes for an impressive both sight and sound, even if they are not up to par on the speedier parts. In “Hallelujah”, the tenors went astray like sheep and for several bars the whole choir was quite confused. Overall, though, the choir gave quite a good performance.
Conductor Philip Chu (who is no older than I am) seemed confident and engaged. The choir being amateurs, he naturally focused much of his conducting on them. Fortunately, the orchestra played as they should. And organist Peter Kneeshaw, who was playing his 25th Messiah in Town Hall, added a sense of calm and grandeur to the setting. Adding organ to the Messiah is uncommon in Denmark, but with an instrument as magnificent as the one in Town Hall, it would be a shame not to. Especially the 32-foot pipes sounded wonderful.
Tenor James Pratt was without doubt the weakest link in the performance. He probably had a bad day – audibly struggling several places, and not concentrated in his keeping in tempo with the orchestra. Bass Jae-Hyeok Lee had a good voice, but his Korean accent was a bit too heavy not to notice. The girls, meanwhile, were the stars of show. Especially contralto Helen Sherman was the musical highlight, but both she and soprano Simone Easthope (who is a Seventh-Day Adventist) did a wonderful job in narrating and making the words and music come alive.
There were several glitches throughout, but nothing serious enough to tarnish the overall experience. The performance was no match for Camerata in Copenhagen, but considering the young age of most of the performers and the amateur choir, this was a good prelude to a merry Christmas, indeed.
The Radio Community Chest 66th Annual Presentation of Handel’s Messiah
Sydney Town Hall, December 17, 2006
Combined Churches Choir
Conductor: Philip Chu, Organist: Peter Kneeshaw
Soprano: Simone Easthope, Contralto: Helen Sherman, Tenor: James Pratt, Bass: Jae-Heok Lee