Messiah, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

4.00

The first two days of January are a drab time in Scotland, after the junketing of Hogmanay. So there's a tradition of spicing things up with performances of Messiah. For some reason, this oratorio has attached itself to this period, attracting many punters who, one suspects, never otherwise see the inside of a concert hall. At least, the person next to me, who beat time, stamped her feet and sang along throughout the evening, clearly didn't know how to behave.

We are now established in what someone called the "Watkins Shaw era". Shaw was the musicologist who produced an edition of this well-known piece with all the extra instruments, Romantic additions, and other spurious elements removed, heralding an age of fresh tempos, limpid textures and deft vocal embellishments. Stephen Layton's performance with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus was the triumph of Shawdom - brisk, lightsome, pastoral.

Perhaps the principal honours should go to Timothy Dean, the new chorus director. He is clearly a man who knows what he wants, and gets it. The singers had a way of pronouncing the opening consonants just before the beat, and allowing the tone to explode at the key moment. It gave the rhythm a breathless, slippery quality, like a windsurfer skimming the waves.

At first, it was hard to believe that they would keep up with Layton's quicksilver tempos, but they flashed and sparkled to the very end. "For unto us a child is born" was a dancing scherzo, fully worthy of the Italian cantata from which this music comes.

Nevertheless, there were other moods in the choral singing. One was reminded of Handel's German origins in the sober, formal fugue of "And with his stripes", and the unaccompanied "Since by man came death" was a mysterious haze of colour.

The soloists, lithe and transparent, had been chosen with just such a performance in mind. The tenor James Gilchrist, straining a bit in "Comfort ye", soon acquired an excitable, nervous delivery that blazed into defiance in "Thou shalt break them with a rod". The alto part was sung by a counter-tenor, Iestyn Davies. This is a voice that seldom works in opera, but here it was just right - the singer had a kind of Romantic ghostliness of tone. He could do tragedy, too: the immensely slow "He was despised" was desolate, spare, a poignant image of loneliness.

The delightful soprano Gillian Keith is well known in Scotland. Her sound was pure and creamy, and she was agile as a bird, but she could be seductive, too, especially with the violin obbligato of Edwin Paling in "How beautiful are the feet". The bass, James Rutherford, had dignity but was the only one not quite at home with Layton's up-tempo style. The audience, however, appeared to miss the point entirely. After such a bracing show, they applauded glumly. My noisy neighbour didn't applaud at all. There's no pleasing some people.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world