ERCU Messiah

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Miranda Heggie

four stars

Kicking off the new year in time-honoured tradition, the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, accompanied by the Edinburgh Pro Musica Orchestra and John Kitchen on the organ, gave an uplifting performance of Handel’s Messiah in what was their 131st annual New Year’s concert. Guest conductor Benjamin Bayl led the chorus and orchestra with clean, clear movements, beautifully capturing the music’s sway. The orchestra, under the leadership of Rowan Bell, was on spectacular form, easily up there with the country’s finest early music ensembles. Bell’s solo playing towards the end of part three was exquisitely ornamented with a raw, organic tone, and the offstage brass in the first part was crisp and sparkling. Underpinning much of the music with a strong yet subtle depth was John Kitchen’s mastery of the Usher Hall’s mighty organ, adding just the right amount of power.

Performing this marvelous work every year, the choir must know every inch of the music inside out, and that is certainly what came across, with perfect balance between parts, crystal-clear diction and long melismatic passages tightly controlled. The quartet of soloists were equally rigorous in their portrayal of the piece. Showing a real talent for Oratorio, mezzo-soprano Judy Brown gave a heartfelt and compelling rendition of He was despised, the opening aria in part 2. Soprano soloist Susanna Hurrell brought a beautiful array of colour to I know that my redeemer liveth although her vibrato was a touch on the heavy side. Bass-baritone Tristan Hambleton sang with a rounded warmth, though was sometimes overshadowed by the orchestra,  and tenor Elgan Llŷr Thomas gave clear and animated delivery.