Review: University of York Choir, Yorkshire Baroque Soloists, Central Hall, University of York, December 1

CHRISTMAS came early in the form of a splendid performance of Handel’s Messiah, performed by the University of York Choir and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists, directed by Peter Seymour.

The excellent Baroque orchestra set the tone with a crisp Sinfony introduction. This led to the ever dependable tenor Jason Darnell singing a delightful Comfort Ye and Ev’ry Valley. The huge choir entered the fray with the chorus And The Glory Of The Lord.

The real success of a Messiah performance depends on the chorus: Handel offers no musical hiding places, their technique is right on the line. And from this opening chorus to the final fugue And He Shall Reign, they were seriously good indeed.

I particularly enjoyed the performance of bass singer Frederick Long. He was always technically secure, the vocal range clear, and his contributions illuminating, for example in the aria The People That Walked In darkness.

Nancy Cole is a fine mezzo-soprano, although I sometimes lost some of the lower register. O Thou That Tellest was lovely, as was the string accompaniment.

It takes a while before soprano Mhairi Lawson enters the drama, but it was well worth the wait. The outrageously virtuosic aria, Rejoice Greatly, was delivered with thrilling aplomb. He Shall Feed His Flock, with Ms Cole, was utterly seductive.

There were many highlights in both the Second and Third parts, such as the ever-uplifting Hallelujah chorus, an utterly wonderful I Know That My Redeemer Liveth and the delicious exchanges with Ms Lawson and violinist Lucy Russell in If God Be For Us.

One negative: I was genuinely irritated with the stewards for allowing late, remarkably insensitive audience members to access seating in the eyeline of the performers. But the evening belonged, ultimately, to Peter Seymour, whose concerts invariably bring both insight and enrichment.

Steve Crowther

Steve Crowther