‘One of their best’: Choir’s 57th Handel’s Messiah raises roof at Uppermill Civic Hall

Martin Paul Roche reflects on the 57th performance of Handel’s Messiah by Saddleworth Male Voice Choir with Ladies Chorus, along with The Pennine Orchestra led by Andrew Rostron, at the Civic Hall in Uppermill.

It is reported that John Wesley, the theologian and co-founder of the Methodist church, was at the premiere of Messiah and recorded in his journal, “There were some parts that were affecting but I doubt it has staying power.”

Even after nearly 280 years, the Messiah still has the capability to ignite emotions on so many levels in all communities.

In Saddleworth, Messiah – like Saddleworth Male Voice Choir – has been a central part of the community for such a long time. With this 57th annual performance, it and they appear just as popular as ever.

Saddleworth Male Voice Choir with Ladies Choir and The Pennine Orchestra at the 57th performance of Handel’s Messiah at Uppermill Civic Hall

It is fair to say SMVC shone during this performance. I’ve been to this annual event for a number of years and without doubt, this was one of their best, augmented by the Ladies Choir.

Bear in mind this is all put together in six rehearsals while the The Pennine Orchestra had just the afternoon to (in muso parlance) ‘top and tail’ the performance.

The conductor Dorian Kelly had a very controlled handle (no pun intended) on the whole performance and on the rare moments when things went awry, he maintained things expertly.

Returning to the choir, their momentum and energy grew with passion and vigour with each successive piece. It is easy to be dazzled by the ‘main events’ in such a famous oratorio, but this performance made the ‘supporting players’ rise to prominence.

The soloists did not disappoint. April Grime (Soprano), Emma Stannard (Alto), John Pierce (Tenor) and Thomas Hopkinson (Bass) were all on fine form. Picking out their highlights brings me to obvious choices in any quality performance of Messiah.

‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ from Grime had a purity, delicacy and evenness of line which was divine and was a constant throughout what was a bright and engaging performance.

Stannard posed me the greatest problem in that her performance was one of consistent high points. Her warm, rich and secure tone never wavered in what appeared a faultless delivery and technique, evident from the very beginning in ‘But who may abide.’

Pierce demonstrated his experience of this piece in Part Two in what I always have considered are a demanding series of recitative and arias. All were performed in equal measure with his trademark secureness, passion, animation and also, power when needed but delicacy when demanded.

In Hopkinson we had a very fine performance indeed. A glorious performance of ‘Thus saith the Lord of Hosts’ and ‘For behold, darkness shall cover the earth’ set the standard and as with the others, he did not disappoint.

‘Why do the nations’ went at a sizzling pace for which both he and the orchestra were well matched and ‘The trumpet shall sound’ was superb. I’ve so often heard this over-performed, but this was measured and masterly. First class.

I have not mentioned the ‘Hallelujah chorus’, not because it wasn’t a fine performance – it was – but Messiah is so much more than one piece and this complete performance demonstrated just that point.

The quality of the whole allowed me to savour some of the other component parts far more that I have before. That is an indicator of the quality of the complete performance which, I feel, was one of the best they have delivered in a number of years.

Messiah at Saddleworth is, not so much an annual event, but an institution. Long may that continue.

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