The annual performance of the Messiah at Swansea is for many people the gateway to Christmas.
The work was first performed in Dublin 275 years ago where it was classed an unqualified success. This was welcome news for the composer whose operas had failed and who was facing financial problems. But even he could not have forecast the long-standing appeal of the work down through the decades.
The work is in three distinct parts. Part one is based on the prophecies of Christ’s birth and the bringing of the good news to the shepherds.
Part two is perhaps the most emotional section dealing with the crucifixion and resurrection while the final part deals with faith and conviction.
Composed in just 24 days the music is liberally sprinkled with wonderful chorus work and in the Swansea Bach Choir the concert had one of the finest choruses in South Wales. And they were in fine voice throughout.
Under the baton of musical director Greg Hallam, the choir produced a rich sound bringing a sense of drama and sadness when required. The work contains more than a dozen great choruses, more than in almost every other work created by Handel, and the choir were in total control.
They were particularly impressive at the climax of the work with Worthy is the Lamb which runs into the Amen chorus to bring the performance to an end.
Orchestral support was provided by Musica Poetica of London, a relatively new group of young musicians. They demonstrated a light touch throughout the concert but it was a little disconcerting to hear them tune-up so regularly including halfway through the first part of the work.
There was an interesting line-up of soloists all with wide-ranging experience of oratorio and opera work.
The two male soloists tenor, Rhodri Prys Jones and bass-baritone Frederick Long were particularly impressive.
Frederick Long’s performance of Why do the nations so furiously rage was strong and direct while Rhodri Prys Jones launched the whole performance with a wonderfully sensitive performance of Comfort ye my people.
The were supported by Mezzo Martha McLorinan and soprano Alexandre Stevenson.
Overall it was a beautifully judged performance in spite of some of the disturbances they faced.
While autumn is classed as the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, at this December concert it was more a case of coughs, latecomers from the bar after the interval and an over enthusiastic photographer snapping throughout the performance.
These distractions may have taken the edge off the enjoyment of the evening for some concertgoers but it clearly did not affect the performers on stage.
It was a fine concert to get people in the right mood for the festive season.