Tragic, damned or rejoicing: the choral society delivers

Blended, accurate and bold declamatory singing in Messiah



The wet and blustery weather did not deter the audience from attending Newbury Choral Society’s performance of Messiah by Handel, described by Sir Thomas Beecham as ‘one of the grand scores’. The church was just about full which in itself is a reflection of the high esteem in which this choir is rightly held.

Conductor Cathal Garvey gave a clear, short and useful introduction to the formation of the work and then set off straight away into the Sinfonia, carefully phrasing the Allegro section with a sense of onward purpose. The Covent Garden Chamber Orchestra is a group of excellent amateurs who produced sound and effective ‘accompaniment’ throughout the evening, always being aware of how Cathal Garvey wished to mould or balance the different styles of Handel’s writing.

With around 35 sopranos, 42 altos, 11 tenors and 20 basses, the imbalance of parts can be immediately understood. The tenors and basses produce a good sound and are not doing anything wrong but in the choruses written in polyphonic style this imbalance was clear. Until the government and the education system listen to the research that is being done and has been done over the last decades that music, and particularly singing, is essential for physical and mental health for both boys and girls from the crèche through to sixth form, this imbalance is going to continue.

However, in the harmonic choruses and sections of choruses, for example Surely he hath borne our griefs, the choir did what they are really good at – blended, accurate and bold declamatory singing, showing the effects of really sound training. The choir knew the score, eyes were on the conductor and the different moods were communicated well to the audience, whether tragic, damned or rejoicing.
Particularly pleasing was the ensemble of the running passages, so difficult with large forces but achieved with clarity.


Newbury Choral Society: Handel’s Messiah
, at St Nicolas Church, Newbury, on Saturday, November 2

The soloists all interpreted their words well. Claire Bessent (soprano) unfortunately got off to a bad start by tripping up on to the stage and this seemed to affect her vocal production. Annie Gill (alto) had a light, almost mezzo-soprano vocal quality but with an extensive range.

Stefan Kennedy (tenor), still training at the Royal Academy of Music, opened the work with a beautiful, well-supported Comfort ye. This is, as yet, quite a small voice but one with enormous promise. David Ireland (bass) had a big voice with a wonderful range of colour and dynamics, ranging from the eerie opening of For behold, darkness shall cover the earth to the rage of Why do the nations so furiously rage together. Duets were all sensitively sung with caring ensemble and balance.

Newbury is rightly proud of its choral society and this performance of Messiah will continue to uphold its respect.

Now, come on, gentlemen, join the ranks and make it, surely, one of the best amateur choirs in the country.


Newbury is rightly proud of its choral society and this performance of Messiah will continue to uphold its respect


Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News