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Dunedin Consort, director John Butt, gave
a superb performance of Handel's Messiah,
Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 17th December 07
Filed 20 Dec 07
Handel's Messiah can be performed in many ways:
from the original version performed in Dublin in 1742, through the
many revisions made by Handel himself, to the version revised by
Mozart in 1788. In more modern times it has been fashionable to
deploy very large resources in terms of both orchestra and choir.
However, `John Butt, who is Gardiner Professor of Music at Glasgow
University, has made a specialty of performing the Messiah using
resources that are limited to a chamber orchestra and choir, and
keeping broadly to the range of instruments that were available
in Handel's day.
Thus, in the Queens Hall performance by Dunedin
Consort under his direction there were
4 first violins
3 second violins
1 double base
2 oboes (attractively perched on high stools at the back of the
2 trumpets (old style)
The soloists were
Susan Hamilton, soprano
Meg Bragle, mezzo soprano
Nicholas Smith, tenor
Brian Bannatyne-Scott, bass
The whole was directed by John Butt, standing
at the harpsichord, as would be the case in Handel's day.
With the excellent acoustics of the Queens Hall,
what a superb sound they made.
Dunedin Consort, under the same director, had
recently released an award winning CD of the Messiah (1). For the
the Queens Hall performance most of the choir and orchestra were
different from those of the group who took part in the highly acclaimed
CD. But with the advantage of a live performance, the Queens Hall
version was possibly even better. With high quality singers and
instrumentalists there was a delightful clarity and intimacy to
the performance. The cellos and double base were especially impressive,
backed by organ playing that was perfectly balanced. Indeed, good
balance of sound was a striking feature of the Queens Hall performance.
Handel was the master of creating high drama from
small resources. Although only occasionally deployed, the trumpets
were superbly played, backed by mighty impressive timps.
Of the soloists, the bass, Brian Bannatyne-Scott,
has to be singled out for tone, clarity and gorgeous lower notes,
and for the apparent consummate ease in performance. His voice,
and his experience in singing opera, made him perfect for the role.
Nicholas Smith, tenor, had a refreshingly clear
voice with perfect articulation that contrasted, yet blended, with
the bass beautifully. The female soloists were a joy to listen to,
although - if one had to make some criticism - perhaps the soprano
was a touch light and her articulation perhaps not as perfect as
that of her three soloist colleagues.
The driving force was clearly John Butt. What
a splendid interpretation. What a splendid range of gorgeous, perfectly
balanced sounds, delivering the drama that is so characteristic
Altogether a highly memorable evening.
1. Dunedin Consort. Handel: Messiah (Dublin version).
CD recording: Linn-CKD285
Gramophone Awards 2007: Best of category - Baroque Vocal
available online through www.prestoclassical.co.uk