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Review: Ilkley and Otley Choral Societies sing Handel’s Messiah

Review: Ilkley and Otley Choral Societies sing Handel’s Messiah

Review: Ilkley and Otley Choral Societies sing Handel’s Messiah at St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley,

Saturday, December 17, 2022

THE annual performance of Messiah by the Ilkley and Otley choral societies returned to Ilkley after a longer than usual gap last Saturday night.

Despite the discomfort of the seating in St Margaret’s and the inclement weather, the occasion produced a packed and enthusiastic audience for this seasonal mainstay!

The players of the Yorkshire Chamber Ensemble gave their usual polished performance, with crisp articulation and nicely judged ornamentation, providing with Robert Sudall (continuo) an excellent grounding for the work. Jennifer Sterling (conductor) chose the fast dance-like tempi which we are used to in today’s historically-informed performances of baroque oratorio but which place quite a demand on an amateur choir of more than 100 voices. Perhaps it was the different church acoustic but I did not feel that the choir was as assured and well-balanced as in their performance of the Rossini mass last month. Articulation certainly suffered from the fast tempi and the middle parts, which are not as well supported by the orchestra, tended to disappear in the fugal choruses. Nevertheless the basses were a source of strength and the sopranos responded well to the trumpets’ urging in achieving their high notes in Hallelujah and Amen.

Those same trumpets duetted well with baritone, Matthew Palmer, in The trumpet shall sound – one of the evening’s highlights. The tenor, Alex Banfield, standing in at the last moment for the advertised singer, gave a most accomplished performance, both tone and words clear and well-articulated – his singing of Thou shalt break them with just continuo accompaniment was outstanding. I am still not convinced that it is a good idea to ask a mezzosoprano to sing the alto part in Messiah, but Beth Mackay, although a little over-operatic in expression, brought to her solos a clear tone and good understanding of the text. Catriona Hewitson (soprano) sang with great agility, admirable diction, and rapt assurance in I know that my Redeemer liveth, though using too much vibrato for my taste.

Altogether this performance certainly did not disappoint. Choirs love singing this music, still so much part of our national musical life, so that their enthusiasm cannot help rubbing off on the audience, who responded with very generous applause.

by Chris Skidmore

Published in the Ilkley Gazette