The Organ

Handel's Messiah at the RAH

Anna Leese, Tim Mead, Allan Clayton and Jacques Imbrailo with St Bartholomew's Hospital Choral Society and the New London Soloists Orchestra
Royal Albert Hall
10th May 2006

Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall seem to generate an atmosphere all of their own, perhaps because the venue is so beautiful and well-situated. On this sunny Wednesday evening, the RAH once again lived up to its reputation and staged a delightful performance of Handel's well-known work.

From the first chords of the overture to the final notes of the Amen chorus, the music emanated youth, enjoyment and energy. St Bartholomew's choir were many in number, included females in both tenor and bass sections, and sang to a high standard throughout the concert. Unfortunately, the acoustics at times made the sound a little fuzzy, and the occasional high note sounded slightly forced, but overall their performance was sprightly, rich and full of life. The 2nd and 3rd parts were particularly well sung, and all members managed to provide a delightful array of dynamics and tone to fit the individual moods of the pieces.

Similarly, the orchestra gave a very professional performance. Slightly unusually the string section was almost entirely female, which perhaps redressed the three male soloist balance! They worked hard and unobtrusively, but were very polished. The entrances were timed well, the dynamics fitting and the more demanding pieces such as “Why do the nations” were played almost faultlessly. I did think it a slight pity that, as is so often the case, the Pastoral Symphony was cut short, but without a doubt the orchestra played a huge role in the success of the evening.

When it came to the soloists, their youth definitely didn't adversely affect their performances. The soprano – Anna Leese – was slightly nervous in her first recitative after waiting the chance to sing for over 30 minutes, but calmed down remarkably quickly to give a clear and pure rendition of some of the most beautiful arias in the Messiah. “I know that my redeemer liveth” was especially beautiful, and Anna seemed to be living the music whilst she sang.

The countertenor – Tim Mead – was also very involved in the music. Although I am not traditionally an advocate of countertenors, particularly when they take the 'alto' role, his performance was of a very high quality. Perhaps occasionally lacking a little in body, he still managed to produce a clear and engaging tone, and some very beautiful pathos in “He was despised”.

The tenor – Allan Clayton, whose youthfulness sat at odds with the maturity in his voice, - gave a lively rendition of “Every Valley” and hit all his notes finely and richly. Without seeming to make undue effort during his arias, they were still powerfully sung and technically strong, and overall he was just a pleasure to listen to.

And finally the bass, Jacques Imbrailo, provided a fitting fourth to the group. His performance in “Why do the nations” was lively and charming as well as of high quality. There were a few slightly dull notes during a couple of the arias, but the stately “The trumpet shall sound” showed off the best aspects of his voice admirably.

Although there was the occasional missed note, and perhaps a few too many trills interspersed, the concert gave off a very polished and practised air from all its diverse participants. Its success was aided by the conductor, Ivor Setterfield, who provided effective and lively direction without attempting to steal the limelight from his performers. All in all, I would say that this concert formed one of those nights where all you have to do is sit back and let the music form a cloud of pleasure around you.