Handel: Messiah (Concert Review - The Adelaide Advertiser, 2016)

As composers go, Handel is a bit like Bach in that it is absolutely essential for any serious exponent of his music to have views about the performance.

Visiting conductor Stephen Layton, of City of London Sinfonia fame, not to mention the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, most definitely fits the bill.

Layton’s approach to Handel’s popular masterpiece is full of insight, and the result a performance to be remembered – and with Messiah, that’s saying something.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, reduced to a mere two dozen, play as if to the baroque manner born, with sparing and intelligent use of vibrato, and a wonderful declamatory style in the bigger numbers. With harpsichord (Glenys March) and chamber organ (Peter Kelsall) in the mix, balance is crucial, especially in the gentler pieces, and the result was altogether very satisfying.

A quartet of imported soloists, all with considerable experience in the “authentic” space, were admirably suited to the task, especially soprano Eleanor Dennis, quite the Handel specialist with a number of his operas and oratorios in her repertoire.

A somewhat enlarged Adelaide Chamber Singers were predictably well drilled, though not quite razor sharp in a few of the speedier choruses.

Layton’s approach is idiosyncratic, to be sure – to wit the astonishing use of the Town Hall’s vast Walker pipe organ in full roar in the closing bars of the “Amen chorus. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. And it was utterly thrilling.

Review by Peter Burdon