RSNO Messiah

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

Four Stars

THERE was much to love in the RSNO’s annual New Year Messiah on Sunday afternoon, not least the configuration of the orchestra and RSNO Chorus onstage, the fleet tempos of conductor Matthew Halls, who had the whole oratorio whizzing along without it ever sounding hurried or rushed, though a few land-speed records were under threat, and, perhaps above all, the sheer quality of the four soloists, soprano Ailish Tynan, countertenor Iestyn Davies, the incomparable tenor James Gilchrist and that totally-secure and dependable bass baritone Matthew Brook.

What a squad: in fact a dream team. And it all altered the entire balance and perspective of the performance. So often the Messiah is primarily a choral piece with the soloists as add-ons. This was a more complete, unified conception, immensely strong in its narrative, with unfailing tonal and textual clarity from these four soloists, whose voices then blessed the narrative with their beauty, power and innate sense of drama. I don’t think I breathed during Gilchrist’s Comfort Ye; Tynan lit up the performance and the spirits, Brook had one shaking with his thunder, while that magic man Davies utterly beguiled this listener with his spellbinding, steel-cored vocal purity.

The chorus could only benefit from all of this strength, power and lucidity around them, with the fantastic cohesiveness of all players and singers bound into a single, compact unit on stage. And benefit they did, with Hall’s light, pacey, weightless but critically-accented tempos adding propulsion without pressure to the drive of the piece. It was kinda dazzling and I loved it, though I thought the dynamically-fussy approach in the Amen fugue didn’t come off.