For Edinburgh, classical music in 2017 begins with a bang, not a whimper. New Year’s day had the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Viennese concert, and today, Edinburgh Royal Choral Union puts on its 130th Messiah! The Edinburgh choir is augmented by members of the Orkney Winter Choir, and between them they are over 100 strong. They are accompanied by the Edinburgh Pro Musica orchestra, with John Kitchen on the organ, and all are expertly conducted by Michael Bawtree.
Handel was, of course, a great opera composer, so the Messiah contains many fine arias, and here they are well sung by four very good singers. Supreme among them is the fine, international soprano, Mhairi Lawson, whose beautiful clear voice dominates the Usher Hall. Mezzo-soprano, Emilie Renard, has a very sweet voice, but at times she is underpowered, and is lost among the chorus and orchestra. The American bass-baritone, Tyler Simpson, has a sound voice, and the tenor, Nathan Vale, has a lovely melodic voice that stands out.
The Messiah attracts a rather different audience from a normal concert one, with many friends and family members of the chorus attending. Also, old friends meet up for picnic lunches in the 30 minute interval between part one and two, and the Usher Hall takes on a party atmosphere.
The Messiah is a remarkable work, composed in only 24 days by Handel, it has become a central part of our musical culture, and we all recognise the great arias and stand for the Hallelujah Chorus. The packed Usher Hall gives it a great reception at the end, particularly for the chorus: yes, the soloists are good, but the chorus are the real stars. It will surely still be performed for another 130 years!