Handel's Messiah is a work that needs little introduction. Composed in 1741, its "Hallelujah Chorus" is as fresh in the public mind today as it was in Handel's time. The 3-hour oratorio tells the story of Christ through narrative airs and choruses.
Imperial College Choir were on top form in their performance of Messiah on 30th November. To a packed audience in St Augustine?s Church, choir and soloists alike were strong and really gave something of themselves. There were moments when the music was so profound that it penetrated through to the bone; and others when a lyrical air transported you to another place.
At the start of the performance, I made two mistakes. First, I arrived after all the best seats were taken; and second, the seat I chose was right at the front, at the far left beside the first violins. Sitting so far forward means the music does not have time to blend before it reaches you - instead of hearing a string section, you hear
individual violins - and sitting so close to the violins meant that it was hard to hear anything else, even the chorus!
Despite my errors, Part One (the birth) had enjoyable moments; Robert Felstead's lyrical tenor voice introduced the oratorio with "Ev'ry valley shall be exalted", making the most of Handel's text painting techniques. Although there were one or two slightly unclear notes, his euphonious sound shone through.
I struggled to hear the alto soloist in nos. 8 and 9 ("Behold, a virgin shall conceive" and "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion"), though when her voice came through it had a pure sound which suited the music perfectly. The bass soloist who followed was unfortunately quiet and a little flat; though his voice had a good tone.
After the interval I managed to find a seat in the middle of the audience, and the difference in acoustic was instantly noticeable. Part Two (the passion and the resurrection) commenced with the chorus singing "Behold the Lamb of God", which confirmed that the new seat was infinitely superior to the old, and finally allowed me to hear the choir as they should be heard.
The alto from 8 and 9 returned in no. 23 "He was despised"; it was a real pleasure to hear her voice in a friendlier acoustic. She was still a smidgen quiet, but it was a joy to be able to hear her voice properly.
After the chorus again excelled with "All we like sheep" Edward Hughes entered with a series of recitatives and airs. His powerful yet harmonious voice suited the role of the preacher telling of Jesus' persecution and death.
Part Two ended with the famous Hallelujah chorus. Several members of the audience rose from their seats as the chorus reached the climax. This was the moment that audience and choir alike had been waiting for, and the choir did not disappoint. The church was filled with the sound of passion.
Part Three (the promise of redemption and everlasting life) had good solos from soprano Jessica Gillingwater and bass James Howard, and solid choruses.
All in all, it was a memorable and enjoyable performance: the chorus not only had the talent, but the will and the desire, to sing that night, and it was clear that they had enjoyed it as much as the audience. Given that every one of the twelve soloists was plucked from the Choir's rank-and-file, it added up to a most impressive performance. I look forward to their next concert.