Messiah, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
Friday 05 January 2007
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.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 Sussex couple die in suspected Christmas Day 'suicide pact'
- 5 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
Doctor Who Christmas special, review: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
The Interview film review: Controversial gross-out satire is broad, bawdy and bad - but undeniably entertaining
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever