Thursday, 18 October 2018

PCS present a modern Messiah

Handel's Messiah is one of those choral works with which audiences and performers feel especially familiar.

Handel's Messiah is one of those choral works with which audiences and performers feel especially familiar.

Yet Pangbourne Choral Society, urged on by their new music director Roy Raby, performed this masterpiece with pulsating pace and dramatic intensity.

The magnificent Southern Sinfonia Orchestra, playing with energy and customary dexterity, provided the vital backbone. The soloists (Hannah Nye - soprano, David Allsop - countertenor, Nicholas Smith - tenor, and Alex Otterburn - bass) were more than willing participants with their riveting and vital contributions. Highlights were Hannah Nye's moving I know that my Redeemer liveth and David Allsop's But who may abide and He was despised.

And what of the excellent Pangbourne Choral Society? For 100-odd singers to perform with such verve and tempo was an amazing achievement in itself. By the interval, we had been treated to arresting renditions of the familiar And the Glory and For Unto us a Child is Born.

Especially noticeable were the fast exchanges between the four parts in And He shall Purify, with flowing phrases punctuated by some emphatic moments.

As Part 2 opened, one was left wondering how the ensemble would cope with the challenges ahead. Maybe there was the occasional sensation of 'cornering on two wheels' but the choir quickly and almost imperceptibly regained balance and motored on.

The peak of dramatic passion lay in Surely He hath borne our Griefs, and All We like Sheep was delivered with staccato, self-accusatory attack leading to the ensuing laments.

The Hallelujah chorus was a revelation. All too often one hears well-delivered but pompously repetitive phrases. Roy Raby combined a sense of majesty with a breath-taking sureness of touch.

Finally, Hannah Nye (If God be with us) set up the concluding Worthy is the Lamb and Amen choruses and the audience rose to applaud a Messiah that revealed a poignant and contemporary relevance.

As Roy Raby said in his programme note: "This evening's performance is a celebration of friendship, not a reflection of a bygone age or an elusive quest for an 'authentic' performance". And so it was.

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