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Review: Messiah works its magic at the Sage Gateshead

Musicians and singers alike gave their all in a triumphant performance of a seasonal favourite at Sage Gateshead

*****
Conductor Paul McCreesh
Conductor Paul McCreesh

The combined forces of Royal Northern Sinfonia, their Chorus and four superb soloists thrilled a full Hall One.

Handel’s masterpiece of an oratorio has proved a cornerstone of the Sage’s Christmas programming, so this year’s presentation, as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations, had special significance. It fully lived up to all expectations.

The stage was unadorned, with the only concession to the season being the lone Christmas tree behind and above the platform. But this lack of visual stimulation only served to highlight the music and the story, so powerfully enacted by all the performers.

The orchestra was set out in classic Baroque formation, with the string section gathered around experienced conductor Paul McCreesh, keyboard and wind section to the rear and trumpets and timpani to the side.

These musicians are experts in playing Baroque in the manner intended and this concert found them all on top form, cajoled by a conductor who seemed to engage personally with everyone of them.

Each soloist – soprano Juliet Bauer, countertenor James Laing, vigorous tenor Samuel Boden and robust bass Ben Bevan – was given a moment to shine by the composer.

The soprano air, Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Sion, was a model of precision and clarity, and James Laing’s He Was Despised was performed with great feeling and passion. But all contributed sensitively and faultlessly, whether singing solo or duets.

The Chorus excelled, clearly revelling in this memorable music which runs all the way through the work to its majestic finale and amen. The singers handled the intricacies and contrasts heaped upon them with great élan.

The Hallelujah Chorus was, naturally, a favourite moment, with most of the audience on their feet, following the tradition of George II on first hearing it.

From its premiere in Dublin in 1742, Messiah has proved an enduring work. It is still the most performed classical concert work across the world. It is amazing to think that it took Handel only 24 days of sheer inspiration and hard work to complete.

What a start to the 10th birthday celebration week at Sage Gateshead! It promises to be an unforgettable few days for culture in the North East.

Rob Barnes

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