Handel’s Messiah, Armonico Consort, Warwick Arts Centre
For some it’s the sound of carol singers on a street corner; for others it may be the slightly less harmonious tones of Noddy Holder. But for many, the true herald of the festive season is the full-on Hallelujah chorus and, in the shape of this excellent performance, Christmas was well and truly launched.
The Armonico Consort have a well-earned reputation for mining the rich seam of baroque music and presenting it in innovative ways. There’s a pleasingly quirky balance of period authenticity and considered re-invention in their armoury.
That said this was a very respectful reading of Handel’s evergreen choral masterwork. A smallish orchestra and about three dozen in the chorus more than filled the Butterworth Hall’s wide open spaces without the need to summon up the kind of massed choral society armies that will doubtless be hammering through the same phone directory-sized scores this yuletide.
The work’s large scale can result in things becoming ponderous. Not so here. Christopher Monks directs the whole operation at a cracking pace from start to triumphant finish. Pauses between parts were kept to an absolute minimum with more than one soloist almost forced to start singing before actually reaching their mark. The brass and timpani joined the action while the music was still in progress – no hold-ups for personnel changes here. It was sprightly but, above all else, crystal clear. Flawless balance and a fine acoustic allowed all the soloists to be heard perfectly.
There were nice nods to tradition as well – the first entry of the trumpets from the back of the hall and the audience rising for the Hallelujah chorus (sadly the tradition of someone joining in rather tunelessly was also observed).
Whether as ground-breaking innovation, town hall staple or museum piece baroque, Messiah continues to entertain and inspire audiences as it has done for more than 250 years. The fact that it can still be as fresh and uplifting as it was in this performance bodes well for it over the next 250. Perhaps one day we’ll even find Handel replacing Motown, pop or the ubiquitous Noddy as our Christmas shopping soundtrack. Hallelujah!
* Armonico Consort return to St Mary’s Warwick on Saturday February 1 to perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Full details from www.armonico.org.uk .