Review of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 8th April 2017

Ely Choral Society has excelled again! Its production of ‘Messiah’ by Handel was superb. The conductor Andrew Parnell revealed the real musical worthiness of this very well known composition with his astute and precise directing.  Ely Choral Society Choir and Ely Youth Choir sang with a refreshingly graceful and buoyant exactness that matched Handel’s style perfectly. The soloists were top notch and were particularly expressive in the recitatives, telling the story emotionally and effectively.  These fine soloists were Elisabeth Rauch (soprano|), Helen Charlston (mezzo soprano), Oliver Martin-Smith (tenor) and William Gaunt (bass|). Ely Festival Orchestra and organist Edmund Aldhouse were also magnificent. The orchestra, led by Helen Medlock, played sensitively and melodiously reflecting perfectly the expression of the singers and Edmund, as always, supported the performance admirably.

Highlights for me were the famous ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, the mezzo-soprano’s aria ‘He was despised’, the orchestra’s Sinfonia/Overture, Oliver Martin-Smith’s ‘Thy rebuke hath broken his heart’, Willam Gaunt’s ‘Behold I tell you a mystery’ and Elisabeth Roach’s aria ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’.

The ‘Hallelujah’ chorus was particularly powerful, stimulating and accurate and standing up for it seemed just right. ‘He was despised’ sung by Helen Charlston evoked a strong sense of darkness and defiance. The orchestra exquisitely set the tone of the performance in the Overture with a serenity that captured the potency of Handel’s dotted rhythms and integral embellishments perfectly.  Oliver Martin-Smith’s ‘Thy rebuke hath broken his heart’ brought forth a real sense of desolation, Willam Gaunt’s tone and expression were particularly moving in ‘Behold I tell you a mystery’ and Elisabeth Roach brought special calmness and reassurance  to the familiar ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’.

This was indeed a special evening for the season and was enhanced with a packed audience which knew it was in for a worthy evening of excellent music. It was even more improved by placing the choir in front of rather than behind the space beneath the octagon. The sound produced accordingly was glorious.

You should book early for Ely Choral Society’s and Ely Sinfonia’s concert on the 15th of July featuring Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony’, Vaughan William’s ‘In the Fen Country’ and the premiêre of Andrew Parnell’s ‘Fenland Images’. contact boxoffice@elycathedral.org

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