Monday 9 December 2019

Messiah round up

The Handel Festival at The Crystal Palace, 1857
The Handel Festival at The Crystal Palace, 1857
As ever, Handel's Messiah seems to be a Christmas essential for most concert hall and music venues. The work's ubiquity might not have surprised the composer, but its association with Christmas might have. When first performed, Messiah was a Lenten and Easter work and Charles Jennens' selection of texts from the Bible takes us from Christ's birth, through his Passion to his Resurrection. But nowadays, it seems to be Part One that sticks. So we have 10 or so performances of Messiah in an around London (that is not counting those which took place earlier in December or those I have missed).

Most performances look set to use a fairly standard version of the score, none this year seem to explore more rarefied versions, no-one offers five soloists and no-one promises a version based on a particular year. But there is plenty of variety. In terms of size, you can opt for the positively chamber-sized performances right up to a promised 350 choristers at the Royal Festival Hall and the full Philharmonia Chorus at the Royal Albert Hall. Large-scale performances of Handel are nothing new, they came in at the end of the 18th century (probably after the Handel commemoration performances at Westminster Abbey in 1784) and it is via large choral society performances in the 19th century that the work's popularity burgeoned.

There are a number of period instrument performances, that at St John's Smith Square is a regular Christmas fixture, but this year we have a visit from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra under Trevor Pinnock which promises to be something of a breath of fresh air.

Soloists are similarly varied, with a selection of distinguished operatic singers including Natalya Romaniw, Sarah Tynan, Renata Pokupic and Katie Bray, right through to talented young professionals who are bound to bring an element of youth and freshness to their performances. And at Southwark Cathedral, there is the chance to hear Messiah sung by the boys and gentlemen of the cathedral choir.

I have restricted this round-up to London-based performances, my apologies to those out of town but being that comprehensive would have made the article impossible. Also, apologies to anyone whose Messiah I have managed to miss, do email me>

The Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin, where Messiah was first performed
The Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin,
where Messiah was first performed in 1742
9 December - Temple Church (Sold Out)
Grace Davidson, Jess Gillingwater, Nathan Vale, Gareth John
Collegium Musicum of London, Temple Players, Greg Morris

11 December - Barbican
Katherine Watson, Claudia Huckle, James Way, Ashley Riches
Zürcher Sing-Akademie, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Trevor Pinnock

12 December - Royal Festival Hall
Sarah Tynan, Renata Pokupic, Benjamin Hulett, David Shipley
Goldsmiths Choral Union, Highgate Choral Society, English Concert Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra, Brian Wright

15 December - St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road
Sarah-Jane Brandon, Rosie Aldridge, Oliver Johnston, Will Thomas
Choir of Kings College, London, Orion Orchestra, Gary Matthewman

18 December - Royal Albert Hall
Natalya Romaniw, Katie Bray, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, William Thomas
Philharmonia Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Christoph Altstaedt

20 December - St James's Church, Piccadilly (by candlelight)
Helen Semple, Cathy Bell, John Upperton, Jon Stainsby
Six Centuries Chamber Choir, Linden Baroque Orchestra, Peter Fender

20 December - Southwark Cathedral
Boys and Gentlemen of the Cathedral choir, Chameleon Arts Orchestra, Ian Keatley

21 December - St Martin in the Fields (by candlelight)
Elizabeth Weisberg, Ciara Hendrick, Ben Thapa, Philip Tebb
English Chamber Choir, Belmont Ensemble of London, Peter G Dyson

21 December - St Augustine's Church, One Tree Hill, Honor Oak Park
Elizabeth Rodger, Sarah Pring, Paul Martyn West, Meurig Davies
London Docklands Singers, Marcel Sinfonia, Andrew Campling

23 December - St John's Smith Square
Anna Dennis, Helen Charlston, James Gilchrist, Neil Davies
Polyphony, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Stephen Layton

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