Messiah St George's, Hanover Square, London

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The Independent Culture

Well, the lass came good. Here was Denise Leigh, half of the winning duo in the English National Opera/Channel 4 "Operatunity" competition, holding her own against some of the most promising voices of the younger generation, and teaching them a lesson or two.

This event - just yards from the composer's house in Brook Street, where so many of his oratorios took shape - gave London's discerning Handelians the chance to take to their bosoms this intriguing singer, heard at ENO recently (with fellow-winner Jane Gilchrist) as Rigoletto's daughter. Was this to be just one more Lesley Garrett /Charlotte Church moment? Might there be more to her?

There was. True, she lacks the delicate, angelic vulnerability of an Elsie Morison or Jennifer Vyvyan; nor had she the "edge" of her fellow-soloists - though something edgy in the voice needs watching. She mimicked her colleagues' passion for limp, sporadic, largely unhelpful decoration, detracting from her very first phrase. But initial hesitance evaporated. What followed, tinged with hints of a natural-sounding Baker-Ferrier vibrato, was sparkling, buoyant, engaging. She surges awkwardly on to flutable high notes; but her dynamic range, and imagination, seemed more impressive than her colleagues'. She can surprise you. Most importantly, her voice evinced a love and tenderness towards the music that sometimes got missed in this hugely proficient overall performance.

The conductor Simon Williams's "Hallelujah Chorus" couldn't have been bettered, and his brisk pacing worked wonders in "Surely", with a magical attacca to "All we like sheep". He could, however, have allowed his audience a bit more mental - dare one say, spiritual? - space. When he held his tenors back for an almost leisurely "Their sound is gone out", he found, belatedly, the missing dimension. Lightly staccatoed word-pointing at "For unto us" (super oboes and strings), a stylish bass lead for "The Lord gave the word", and a galvanisingly slick "He trusted in Him" were among many notable moments from the agreeably homogenous-sounding St George's choir.

Others had moments of magic, too. The RCM Peter Pears scholar tenor, Andrew Staples, excels in punchy recitative, though in aria he has a habit of nudging notes along, making them plod; there were some prosaic dynamics - he needs to "lean" into the music more subtly. The ex-King's Cambridge countertenor Tim Mead, a real talent in embryo, wisely stipulated the pace for his exquisite "O thou that tellest", but might yet soften some of his own emotional "rough places" by heeding the sensitive delivery of his mentor, Charles Brett.

"I tell you a Mystery," the bass James Harrison proclaims - and that's all that this Messiah needed more of.