Dunedin Consort

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE Dunedin Consort’s Messiah is a much more organic beast at the end of 2019, more than a decade on from the release of the ensemble’s award-winning Linn recording of John Butt’s reconstruction of the first performance in Dublin. Although a home gig at this time of year is becoming as much of an institution as the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union’s venerable New Year Messiah in the Usher Hall, hearing the work with just a dozen singers and fifteen instrumentalists is, of course, a very different experience, and one in which the Third Part, following the Nativity and Passion of Jesus with the most persuasive musical argument for one of the most difficult tenets of Christianity, can still have the visceral impact Handel and his librettist Charles Jennens intended.

Alongside Butt, directing from the harpsichord, tenor Nicholas Mulroy was the other front-line link with the recording, a slight nasal quality to his voice suggesting he was not fully fit, but still singing powerfully through any ailment. Bass Roland Wood had succumbed to illness, however, and was ably replaced by Marcus Farnsworth at very short notice, his Trumpet Shall Sound in that triumphant third part ending with a fine flourish.

It is tempting to deploy a sporting comparison for the way this team of vocalists worked together, with those who step out for the solos the strikers, and the chorus in midfield and defence roles. The other goal-scorers here were soprano Rachel Redmond, whose I know that my Redeemer liveth was a bar-setting reading, and the superb alto Jess Dandy, so incredibly rich and persuasive from But who may abide and He was despised.

It is not just the singers, but also the fine continuo players, and pitch-perfect baroque strings, led by Huw Daniel, who all have distinct, audible and individual contributions to make in a Dunedin Consort performance of Handel’s masterpiece: it has become emblematic of a successful community enterprise.