Handel, Messiah (Dunedin Consort cond. John Butt at the Queen's Hall).
Christmas didn't happen last year, as I didn't get to a Messiah. That implies a lack of effort, as there are lots of them. Yet the prospect of the Dunedin Consort was a particularly enticing one, especially in the clean acoustics of the Queen's Hall. Goosebumps remain from the wonderful hard /k/ on Counsellor.
The Dunedin ensemble was pared-back from what can often involve enormous choruses: twelve singers and modest band, yet not for a minute did I feel short-changed. Many of the singers visibly appeared to be having a whale of a time, and enjoying the work of the others when not singing. In particular, a number were in rapt, astonished attention at their colleagues, not least at Brook, of whom more later. The band were fine indeed, and clipped along at a decent pace under John Butt.
Yet the Messiah is really about the voices, and a fine cast sang it here. Mhairi Lawson was clear but pure - glucose rather than honey. Beautiful lines like spun sugar, clear and that wonderful trick of making it seem effortless. Matthew Long seemed to rely a little on a vibrato effect to keep going, and this is not something I find all that appealing if truth be told. Mezzo Rowan Hellier singing Alto was fine too. She is mainly occupied in Salzburg presently, but I hope very much to see her feature more in the UK.
Yet by some way the towering performance of the evening was Matthew Brook's; I still have goosebumps from his jaw-dropping rendition of 'The Trumpet Shall Sound' which was supported by consistently fine trumpet solos/duets. Rather than the very deepest, rumbling sort of bass, this was a rounder, softer, fleshier tone which suited perfectly the venue and the arrangement.
Any previous attempts to displace the magnificent Pinnock recording from my library have failed. Even some quite good efforts (such as the Sixteen's) have been attempted. But I think there might be space for the Dunedin one. Over the evening I couldn't help but think about Fosse's suggestion in the novella Morgen und Abend that through music one might hear 'a little of what his God wants to tell him'. This was a seriously good performance. Quite why the hall wasn't packed out - there were even a few seats free in the stalls, is nothing less than a Christmas mystery.
Conductor: John Butt
Full details here.