review Cambridge Voices, The Age of Reason Orchestra and Ian de Massini Aug 2009

It is very easy to believe that nothing new can be said about Handel. His Hallelujah chorus is the quintessential ingredient to Christmas that everyone knows.

As expected, Cambridge Voices and the Orchestra of the Age of Reason, no newcomers to the Ely Cathedral, drew a large enthusiastic audience that packed the Lady Chapel. The programme for the celebratory concert to mark the 250th anniversary of the death of George Frideric  Handel  looked interesting enough and in the hands of an enthusiastic amateur would have been pleasant indeed.

However, nothing prepared us for the amazing effect of Ian de Massini .  This inspired conductor, arranger and composer infused a unique vibrancy and excitement in music that transfixed the listeners.  Right at the beginning of the event, Ian’s magnetic personality was apparent. No one dared move in case of missing the most subtle of effects.

Zadok the priest is an anthem that has often been performed at high profile events including every coronation since George 11 in 1727.  I have heard this performed often but no other performance captured the spine-chilling effect that these performers created this time. Under Ian’s charismatic direction, the orchestral ensemble calmly and clearly introduced the anthem pacing it well, matching the spirit of the music exactly. Every sonorous note exuded warmth. There was no sight of the choir, which was a little worrying. How were they going to come in on time, without disturbing the effect? Slowly and silently, with exact timing the choir surrounded the audience. When the first dramatic notes were struck we found ourselves right at the core of this fantastic work. This was just one of many thrilling moments in this amazing event.

Ian’s profound musical understanding and wisdom permeated the works with sounds that broke the bounds of tradition. The spirit of Handel was alive and tonal beauty, exact and cohesive timing and precise attention to the most subtle of expressions made his works invigorating and exciting. This was especially noticeable in final allegro of Concerto in F major Op.4. no. 4. for organ and in the abridged oratorio Israel in Egypt.

It was clear that this experience was driven by Ian’s musical vigour and understanding. ‘Celebration’ was the key and he chose works by other composters that enhanced the spirit of the evening perfectly. In Part 2 of the concert Anniversary Corner, Haydn, Purcell, and Mendelssohn featured along with Ian’s invaluable additions. Haydn’s The marvellous work behold amazed!  featured Gill Wilson’s clear soprano voice adding a sense of lightness and buoyancy to this joyous work. Then three short pieces by Purcell captured the special relationship that good music forges in sounds that represent inner religious conviction, reverence and prayer.  No matter how soft and subtle the expression, the double canon in Sancta Maria by Purcell arranged by De Massini and the pleading phrases of Hear my prayer, O Lord mesmerized the listeners.   The repeat of Sancta Maria with it soft ethereal appeal was exactly right. Variety was provided by the more developed, harmonic style of Mendelssohn’s choral music in For he shall give his angels charge over thee . Ian’s unique touch added to this work too. The Anniversary Corner culminated with Ian’s sophisticated, clever but invariably musical arrangement of Amazing grace. Only Ian can mix the traditional expressive style of a spiritual with 21st century choral complexities harmonic colouring and mind-blowing climaxes. The attractive contralto voice of Jenny Oldham featured her own special sense of sincerity and naturalness.

Throughout the evening, one felt an inextricable part of this amazing musical experience and it seemed perfectly natural that we should be further involved and be allowed to stand and take our own part in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Ian’s invariable personal consideration and attention to detail was clearly evident when we discovered the score on our seats in anticipation.  On reflection, this astute musician with such a unique and profound musical awareness displayed real tact as he bravely conducted a full Chapel of motley voices.  Never, was his sense of joy lost.

This concert, generously supported by ADeC, was indeed a unique and special event.

Future concerts to be given by Cambridge Voices and The Orchestra of the Age of Reason include:

Advent by Candlelight: 4.00 p.m. Sunday December 13th, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: Good Friday April 2nd at St. Columba’s Church, Downing St., Cambridge. To keep informed of event, email the choir director ian_demassini@dsl.pipex.com

Contact for ADeC: www. adec.org.uk

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