Review: BBC NOW - Handel’s Messiah @ St. David's Hall
As Christmas approached, the usual feelings on the season gathered in my mind. What does Christmas really mean? Should I take part? How does religion come into it if you aren’t that way inclined?
But through all this, the highlight of the season was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) concert of Handel’s Messiah. It was the entire work lasting a good two hours. My plus one had never been to a classical concert, so like me some ten years ago, her first was with BBC NOW. Something to be proud of really! It was a marathon of a concert for a first-time goer, but she loved it all the same.
After hearing WNO's Jephtha a few weeks before, I was pleased in knowing I would be hearing some more of Handel’s music. Messiah is regarded as the ultimate Christmas piece of classical music. But it could also be played at Easter, due to the events depicted in it. In the premier in Dublin, it was originally performed at Easter. Jesus is obviously the focus and this features some of the best music written in a religious context.
Each movement had its own special charm, such is Handel's music. The orchestra was joined with a medium-sized choir. I noticed Robert Court had the dual role of playing both the harpsichord and chamber organ. He was constantly back-and-fourth. I'm surprised they didn't have another player for one of these instruments just to take the strain off. It's always a pleasure to see a theorbo at a concert. This guitar is enmesh long and juts out of the orchestra. It almost looked like the bows of the violins were attempting to rival the height of it.
The soloists were also on top form. Local singer Elin Manahan Thomas replaced Susan Gritton in the soprano role, Delphine Galou was the mezzo-soprano, Topi Lehtipuu the tenor and Matthew Brook the bass-baritone. I had always wanted to hear Thomas sing. I had thought she would have been in The Sixteen concert I saw a few days before, but they replace the choir every so often. The only other times I had seen her was when she was introducing a concert for BBC Radio 3. Her singing as expected was sublime. I hope she sings more in Wales. I really do.
As for Galou, her presence was certainly noticed. Just before she would sing, she would raise her head, putting her chin in the air. Her singing was robust and as a mezzo demanded a great deal of attention. My plus one agreed and she was exciting every time she would get up to sing. Both male singers also brought a lot to the performance. Their arias were gutsy and firm in their delivery.
It would also appear there were traffic problems before the concert and late-comers in the first half were constantly being shown into the auditorium. This was distracting and the body heat with so many people there was also pretty bad.
Today Handel is much more revered for his many opera. But his oratorios like Messiah play a very important role in the history of music. My first time seeing this and I would go again, just more prepared for the length next time.