Moments of great opera
Slightly shortened, but no less thrilling: Handel's "Messiah" in English with English guests. This was a joint production of the Henley Choral Society and the Figuralchor of the Leichlingen Kantorei.
This musical telling of Jesus’s life was sung in its original English, as is now so often the custom when good musicians are at work. Of course, this was also a nod to those who had come from the twin town in England, as indeed was the gesture to stand for the Hallelujah Chorus, which is a tradition in that country. Bettina Strübel has long been known to many – not merely concert-goers in Leichlingen – as a musician of this calibre, and understands how to marry the demands of a composition with those of the performers. For "Messiah" this meant elastic choral sections and an orchestral tone with the clarity required of chamber music. And the balance between expression and construction was maintained, so that fugal sections (to take an example) were not made to serve the composition as an end in itself but illustrated the text.
One example was the crescendo in the thrice-repeated cry, "Who is this King of Glory?" The audience had no hint of the efforts made during rehearsal but saw only the exuberance of the singers. This was music-making in the best possible sense.
The few moments that were not quite so harmonious might in fact be reminiscent of Beckmesser, because word-painting with sound always took centre stage. The Dusseldorf Philharmonie, an ensemble made up of freelance musicians, performed not just with workmanlike accuracy but reflected Handel's warmth and sympathy at the unfolding story through pithy rhythms and a soft melodious tone. The soloists provided moments of great opera – without any props, but just by the colour of their rendition.
This will certainly not be the last time we hear from the young counter-tenor Daniel Lager - a voice with a future. Christina Müskens’s soprano voice combined sweetness and clarity. Wolfgang Thesing (tenor) painted both beautiful melodies and lively coloraturas; and Will Dawes demonstrated his versatility, since he not only sang the bass solo part but is also the Director of the Henley Choral Society.