Whatever the diet of musicians in Handel’s time, his performers must certainly have had tremendous stamina. ‘Messiah’ as Handel intended, for a chamber sized ensemble is a massive test of endurance, requiring a technique that supports the power of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, the coloratura of ‘All we like sheep’ and the hushed sostenuto of ‘Since by man came death’. After all this comes the mighty ‘Amen’. When the choristers themselves sing all the solos as well, the performance takes on a serious level of self belief that it can deliver the whole package without calling on specialist soloists.
The Choir and Orchestra of St James’ King Street under the direction of Warren Trevelyan-Jones, with the orchestra led by Brendan Joyce, delivered this chamber version of ‘Messiah’ with aplomb and unquestioned musicianship to a delighted audience.
In some ways, the popularity of ‘Messiah’ has been a double edged sword. So many people want to sing it and massed choir productions are so lucrative for choral organisations, that the original intent of the work can become obscured. Therefore, to hear this oratorio, performed by just 19 singers in a church, sans the more showy elements of concert productions, pared the work back to its origins. The choir and its director anchor the liturgical activities of the church and there is therefore a strong connection with sacred repertoire. Regardless of their individual beliefs, collectively, they delivered Charles Jennens’ text with understanding and conviction.
Hearing different choristers from each voice part perform the solos provided variety. It was akin to getting to know them better and to appreciate their voices, usually heard in ensemble.
‘The St James’ presentation of ‘Messiah’ with its message of birth, death and resurrection, has been especially poignant with the memorial service for Margaret Whitlam AO being held at the church this week. The choir, in between its two performances of ‘Messiah’ sang at the service, leading the congregational singing and performing Taverner’s Like As a Hart, Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How lovely is thy dwelling place) from Brahms Requiem and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. No doubt their presence and gentle sound facilitated the grieving, the contemplation and the celebration of a great life, not just for those present in the church, but for the vast television audience as well.
There are two observations that come to mind in reflecting on this presentation of ‘Messiah’. Firstly, that it has a sense of intimacy and simplicity. Secondly, that the music is paramount.
Shamistha de Soysa for Sounds Like Sydney
The Choir and Orchestra of St James King Street directed by Warren Trevelyan-Jones, present the final performance of Handel’s Messiah on Saturday 24th March at 5 pm, at St James’ Church, King Street, Sydney.
Tickets available at the door.