Worthy Is the Band!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sun, 2015-12-13 02:19

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Soloists
NZSO Messiah Chorale
Handel's Messiah
Michael Fowler Centre
December 12, 2015

Two bands were doing gigs in Wellington last night: veteran headbangers ACDC at the Westpac Stadium, and veteran mindblowers NZSO at the Michael Fowler Centre. Readers won't be too astonished to learn that I opted for the latter, accompanied by my regular concert companion, Hon. Heather Roy. Both the Stadium and the MFC were packed to capacity—but we who turned out for Handel's Messiah didn't have to contend with wind, rain and technical hitches! And the unamplified voices of Anna Leese, Sally-Anne Russell, Steve Davislim, James Clayton and the specially-convened NZSO Messiah Chorale were, I venture to suspect, infinitely easier on the ear than Brian Johnson's artificially augmented old rasp! They who wanted Highway to Hell no doubt got it; we who wanted Heaven got that!

It was a pared-down NZSO that fronted for Handel's cherished warhorse: down to 30 players, about the number who performed at its premiere in 1742. Nicholas McGegan, pronounced "one of the finest Baroque conductors of his generation" by the London Independent, brought an assured pair of hands to a work he has directed countless times. Soprano Leese impressed with a voice of exceptional beauty and strength; mezzo Russell, while better than competent, disappointed somewhat with a lack of "grunt," especially in the lower register, which verged on inaudibility; Davislim's penetrating light tenor navigated the coloratura perils of his arias with agility and polish; bass Clayton provided a high point of the evening with a spine-tingling "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

To say the trumpet "sounded" last night would in fact be an understatement, since another high point was the spirited, nimble-tongued, golden-toned trumpet of Michael Kirgan. His entry into proceedings in the second half lifted the whole performance from dutifully impressive to irresistibly joyous—as any narrative culminating in resurrection must surely be! Kirgan's companion Mark Carter was none too shabby either. Their triumphal blasts spun around the auditorium almost visibly, projecting overwhelming grandeur.

Special kudos, too, is owed the one-off chorus, drawn from fourteen different choirs around Wellington (who knew?!). It's often said the chorale are supposed to be the stars of this show, and stellar they were. Full credit there to the man who assembled and prepped them, the highly accomplished Mark Dorrell.

As the last tones of the preposterously clever and infectious cacophony that is Worthy Is the Lamb that Was Slain died away, the audience rose to its feet—as it had, indeed for the Hallelujah Chorus in deference to the tradition begun by King George II—and stayed there for several minutes, clapping and cheering as the performers took their well-deserved bows. It seemed slightly discordant that we weren't rewarded with an encore of Hallelujah!—that would have capped off the evening perfectly.

(One other hitch on the highway to Heaven—the impossibly long queues at the hopelessly understaffed bars during the interval. This has been a feature of previous concerts I've been otherwise blessed to attend. Note to whoever is responsible: please fix this! There can be no Heaven without a half-time tipple!)

Overall, a splendid grand finale to 2015 for the NZSO, a year in which they were consistently the best gig in town. Blessing and honour, glory and power be unto them, for ever and ever. Amen!

I listened to it on Concert

Mr_Lineberry's picture

I listened to it on Concert FM and am embarrassed to say I hadn't realised the broadcast was 'live' - literally live.

A good review with which I concur; pleased someone else felt Russell wasn't up to the job (thought it was just me being snobby), and find it hard to believe they couldn't have gotten someone else to sing that part.

Impressed to hear the audience cheering went on for several minutes (the radio cut it off fairly quickly); nice to know everyone enjoyed the performance.

We need more of this sort of thing in New Zealand to educate the masses

Magnificent review!

Olivia's picture

What an incredulous juxtaposition of two musical performances in one city (of course only one is music, the other is pure faeces).

Handel's Messiah is so utterly glorious, I can only imagine how powerful that was at the MFC. As good as Baroque gets. Merry Christmas!

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