RSNO Messiah

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

IF performances of Handel’s Messiah are often all about the chorus, especially at this time of year, that was emphatically not the case here. The singers of the RSNO Chorus certainly had an important role to play, but there were somewhat fewer of them than we have seen – perhaps less than two thirds of the names in the programme were actually onstage – and, Hallelujah apart, they were required to produce a very measured sound, often at strikingly low volume. That is perhaps something for the sopranos to work on during the choir’s 175th birthday year.

With exemplary diction, however, the chorus gave conductor Nicholas Kraemer what he wanted in an exquisite brisk performance that got to the core of the theological argument of the work, and for which one of the smallest incarnations of the orchestra seen in its home venue was joined by a quite superb line-up of soloists.

Tenor Nicholas Mulroy is arguably currently the perfect man to trust with the work’s opening recitative and aria, and his story-telling, perfectly enunciated, performance was matched by those of baritone Benjamin Bevan and soprano Julia Doyle, all singers with immaculate period performance credentials. But the voice that many in the audience left the hall raving about was that of counter-tenor Reginald Mobley, also pure of tone, immaculate in his articulation and with a personal approach to ornamentation that was never too much and always musical. The aria He Was Despised is always a highpoint of Messiah, and it was absolutely so here, lifting the choir to new heights in the sequence of choruses that follow.

Mobley’s first utterances came in a very pacey “But who may abide”, and Kraemer also directed what was the quickest, most dance-like, version of the short instrumental Pastoral Symphony I have heard, crisply performed by just two dozen strings. A revelatory concert for seasoned Messiah-goers, and if this was your first I am very envious.