Archive for September, 2011

Review of ADeC’s concert in Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel: Handel’s Messiah by Cambridge Voices and the Orchestra of the Age of Reason under the direction of Ian de Massini

September 7, 2011

Whenever Ian de Massini is at the helm, we know we are going to experience something wonderful and the performance of Handel’s Messiah in Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel was no exception. The Chapel was packed with devotees waiting with bated breath for yet another spectacular event.

So much of Handel’s Messiah is familiar and so much has been done to popularise performances.  Yet under the directorship of Ian, technical know-how and an intimate, profound understanding of the composer’s thoughts brought the work into shape, revealing dramatic qualities that have often been subdued and demonstrating the true worth of Handel as a composer.

The choir and orchestra, as always, excelled. Precise entries and dramatic contrasts in volume, pace and texture were explored to the full. Ian’s contribution as conductor and accompanist on the organ and harpsichord was undoubtedly inspirational.

The constant sense of excitement and awe was enhanced by the variety of soloists within the performance. The opening recitative Comfort ye sung by the tenor from the back of the chapel signalled a performance that was going to be exhilarating and unforgettable.

The Orchestra of the Age of Reason was an integral part of the wonderful effects, performing ‘as one’ while providing noticeable clarity in the texture which remained strong, warm and supportive. The inordinate skill of the instrumentalists was a constant feature.

New life was breathed into familiar choruses. The vibrant impact of And the glory of the Lord, the lightness and clarity of the choir’s embellishments in And he shall purify the sons of Levi and the refreshing liveliness and warmth of For unto us a child is born were matched by the striking power of Glory to God, the deep contrasts in Surely, And with his stripes and All we like sheep, the masterful men’s voices in He trusted in God. The culmination of the first half was the rousing Hallelujah chorus with choir, orchestra and audience combining to fill the Lady Chapel with spine-chilling sounds. Participating in this concert was far greater an experience than any other I have known. This is largely due to Ian’s perceptive attention to every detail that makes up his performances. His carefully selected choir members not only sang beautifully and combined cohesively but managed to do this while often placed at different positions within the Lady Chapel and often separated from the other singers of their part. I was able to choose between soprano and alto with strong representation from both parts in close proximity —a testament to Ian’s ingenious choreography.

In addition, Ian’s understanding of the special acoustics of the Lady Chapel brought amazing clarity to the performance and his joyous celebration of Handel’s ideas led to many exquisite moments when he held  back the final phrase for almost too long so that we could all could savour the beauty and expression.

Delights after interval included the opening unaccompanied choir’s Lift up your heads, O ye gates, the rapid declarative counterpoint in Let us break their bonds asunder ,the positive momentum of But thanks be to God and the triumphant , robust and rousing elements of the final Choruses: Worthy is the Lamb, Blessing and honour and Amen.

As expected, this was a unique, exciting and unforgettable performance – one of ADeC’s best.

Future Concerts by Cambridge Voices include:

Saturday 22nd October 2011 7.30 pm Music and the King James Bible of 1611 in St Columba’s Church, Downing St., Cambridge

Sunday 27th November 2011 4.00 pm Britten’s A Boy was Born in the two churches of Swaffham Prior

Good Friday 2012 Bach’s t. John Passion (with The Orchestra of the Age of Reason) St Columba’s Church, Downing St., Cambridge and in the two churches of Swaffham Prior the next day

Monday 27th August 2012 Bach’s Mass in B minor (with The Orchestra of the Age of Reason and the   augmented choir of Cambridge 40 Voices)