A performance of Handel‘s Messiah  at St David’s Hall  is always a pretty sure sign that the Christmas season is upon us, although the work itself was actually first performed at Easter and it’s by no means clear why it ended up almost universally regarded as a Christmas work . Messiah actually spans the entire biblical story of the Messiah, from Old Testament prophecy to the Nativity (Part 1) , the Passion of Christ (Part II, culminating in the Hallelujah Chorus, and the Resurrection of the Dead (Part III). The Nativity only features (briefly) in Part I, which is why it’s a little curious that Messiah is so strongly associated with Christmas.

Whatever the reason I don’t mind admitting that Messiah is a piece that’s redolent with nostalgia for me – some of the texts remind me a lot of Sunday School and singing in a church choir when I was little and then, a bit later, listening to the whole thing at Christmas time at the City Hall in Newcastle. I loved it then, and still do now, over 40 years later. I know it’s possible to take nostalgia too far – nobody can afford to spend too much time living in the past – but I think it’s good to stay in contact with your memories and the things that shaped you when you were young. I went to a performance of Messiah (in the same venue) about this time last year but I relished the chance to hear it again last night.

As it turned out, the pairing of Cardiff Polyphonic Choir with baroque orchestra Réjouissance produced a very different performance from last year. The choir, numbering about sixty members, was in fine voice and the much smaller orchestra meant that the chorus really dominated the show.

Generally speaking I’m not a fan of period instrument performances. I can see the virtue of having a lighter instrumental touch in this case, and don’t have a problem with using forces of similar scale to those Handel would have used (e.g. two oboes, two cellos, one double bass, etc). I do not however understand why musicians insist on using outdated instruments. This is particularly true for the trumpets. Nobody will ever convince me that a baroque trumpet isn’t an inferior version of the modern instrument. All credit to the players for doing the best they could, but I really don’t see the point.

Anyway, that rant aside, I very much enjoyed the performance, especially the lovely singing by all four soloists and the choir, who were outstanding.
Now, I wonder where I’ll hear Messiah  next year?

8 Responses to “Messiah”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    Where will you hear Messiah next year? Presumably in the city where it was first performed.

  2. The older I get, the more I like small orchestras, especially for baroque music. It’s much more exciting from a player’s perspective (at least for strings) because the tone of each and every player counts and it’s also much easier to make a real attempt to play in the style of the period.
    In a good hall, the famous hallelujah chorus is a blast because, when the audience rises, the players are surrounded by voices!

    • telescoper Says:

      I think the way the strings play without vibrato brings a clarity and sense of individuality that can otherwise be missed.

      It’s very demanding, though, as the players are very exposed. There’s no hiding place for a duff note.

      I don’t mind the odd mistake though as long as the performance is exciting. That’s what live music is all about!

  3. telescoper Says:

    Apologies for the formatting oddities in the first paragraph of this. I wrote the piece on my smartphone using the WordPress app, which has a ghastly new editor that reformats text apparently at random.

    I hope it’s now better.

  4. […] 10th December last year I posted a review of a performance of Handel’s Messiah in Cardiff. At the end of that item I wondered where I would be listening to Messiah in […]

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