Cockermouth Harmonic Society 2016 July Concert

Handel's Messiah

Cockermouth Harmonic Society and the Lonsdale Baroque Ensemble, Christ Church, 2 July

‘Comfort ye, Comfort ye, my people’ sang Christopher Steele (tenor) in the opening recitative, drawing on words written about the Jewish Exile in the sixth century BC, translated into English in the sixteenth and which spoke directly to our present circumstances.  He continued superbly with ‘Ev’ry valley shall be exalted’ describing exiles whose return home to Jerusalem was eased in their imaginations by the levelling of a highway across the desert, words applied in Christianity to the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one.  Handel’s oratorio was written at a time when these Christian and Judaic references would have been more widely understood than they are today.  In this post-Christian era it is the music and the general sense of hopefulness that secure Handel’s legacy.

Under the leadership of violinist Julian Cann, the players of the Lonsdale Baroque Ensemble were excellent.  The Pastoral interlude between the prophetic writings and the birth narrative featured two oboes and the bassoon.

Following traditional Christian ideas of salvation-history, the oratorio moves from prophecy, birth and expectation in Part One to sacrificial death and resurrection in Part Two.  What Jesus of Nazareth said and did between times is mostly ignored.  It fell to Margaret McDonald (alto) to articulate the Messiah’s rejection by his peers in ‘He was despised’, appropriately spitting out the last word.  Most of the libretto is taken from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).  The librettist, Charles Jennens, found the most appropriate words for the unfolding drama irrespective of their original context or time.

Part Two ends with the Hallelujah Chorus with the choir in full voice, celebrating the raising of the Messiah from death to life and authority over us.  The audience stood as tradition requires.  Handel did not end his oratorio there.  Part Three deals with the response and fate of humankind.  

Laurie Ashworth (soprano) sang clearly and movingly, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’.  Paul Im Thurn’s (bass) diction was wonderful throughout, particularly in  ‘The trumpet shall sound’ expressing the hope of life after death. The trumpeters of the Baroque Ensemble excelled.  The entire chorus, all the soloists and players, including timpani, joined in the triumphant finale ‘Worthy is the Lamb - Amen’, with Ian Hare (organ) providing the sonorous chords.  A shiver went down my spine as the sopranos hit top A fortissimo.  Musical Director Ian Thompson, and everyone involved, can be proud to have provided such a wonderful evening.  

Martyn Evans