Orchestra Of St John's/Lubbock, St John's Smith Square, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Among the singers and players in this church were some who did not fit the usual stereotypes. A few young singers were in wheelchairs; one read his score with the aid of a giant magnifying glass; a percussionist was blind, and so was the soprano soloist - though with Denise Leigh, the joint winner in Channel 4's Operatunity, we knew exactly where she was coming from. And in Handel's Messiah, originally premiered at a charity event, the charity behind this concert had the perfect vehicle for their experiment.

For what the Music of Life Foundation had done was to put a posse of talented but disabled young musicians together with regular professionals, for a concert making no concessions to its disabled participants. Whether autistic, dyspraxic, blind or with cerebral palsy, the expectation would be the same: professionalism. Conductor John Lubbock, who has specialised in helping disabled children sing and play, had used his band to mentor the young musicians selected by Music of Life; this concert would be the culmination of their year's collaboration.

The opening Sinfonia rang out clean and clear, tenor Christopher Lemmings's delivery of "Comfort ye" was sweet and delicately paced, and the chorus sang with lusty vigour: the forces were small, but in this generous acoustic they made a suitably mighty sound. And in David Stout - still studying at the Guildhall - we got a bass whose tone had a beautifully dark sheen, and who was prepared to take risks. He sang the great aria about darkness covering the earth - which most basses deliver thunderously - in such a hushed tone that the poetry stood out in high relief. Contralto Christine Cairns was, alas, the weak link, with unstable pitch and a vocal wobble that seemed out of control: she made us long for one of the counter-tenors who can deliver that music so brilliantly.

Leigh, on the other hand, was a triumph. Her voice is not yet quite "open" enough, but she has a wonderfully bright tone, which meshed delightfully with the trumpets of Handel's "host of angels". She was, in short, the perfect focus for this sublime work, which ended, as it should, in an explosion of joy.

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