Review: Otley and Ilkley Choral Societies sing Handel’s Messiah, All Saints Parish Church, Otley, Saturday, December 4th 2021

THERE was a large and enthusiastic audience in the parish church for the first concert in Otley of the combined choral societies since the beginning of the pandemic. Messiah is just the work to start off the Christmas season, with its first part including the familiar story of the angels and the shepherds. It is also a work that choruses love to sing and that makes for a rewarding evening for the audience!

The evening was greatly improved by the playing of the Yorkshire Chamber Ensemble, fielding a small group of strings with two oboes, two trumpets and timpani under the leadership of Sally Robinson. They showed a firm grasp of baroque style with beautifully executed ornaments. The continuo group of Robin Cook on keyboard, alternating organ and harpsichord, and the unnamed cellist also gave sterling service. The conductor, Jennifer Sterling, had a few tricks up her sleeve, bringing the trumpets into play in Glory to God from the rear gallery and performing Hallelujah! and Worthy is the Lamb with the choir and soloists together.

The soloists were all seasoned opera professionals and added lustre to the occasion with some admirable performances. Paul Gibson (bass) was in excellent full voice and easily matched the volume of the trumpet obligato in The trumpet shall sound; Stuart Laing (tenor) gave a good account of his solos, particularly Thou shalt break them; and Hannah Mason (mezzo) had a beautiful tone when on the stave but was taxed in projecting some of her lower notes. Joanne Dexter (soprano) was the star of the evening, delivering her interpretation of each aria with great panache and well-judged ornamentation.

But it is the choruses that make or break the evening and the Otley and Ilkley choral societies were in fine voice with good articulation in the difficult runs, great volume in the fortes and some nice piano singing when called for. There continue to be problems with balance in the centre of the ensemble that the presence of female voices among the tenors has done something to improve. Nevertheless this failed to mar the audience’s enjoyment of and appreciation for what was a memorable performance of England’s favourite oratorio!

by Chris Skidmore