Handel's Messiah | WASOLeft - Nicholas Kraemer. Photo - Robert Carpenter Turner. Cover - Sara Macliver

George Frideric Handel
wrote the Messiah in just under a month in 1741. It was first performed in Dublin at the New Music Hall, raising money for Irish farmers affected by the famine. The Messiah, undoubtedly Handel’s most well known oratorio, has since been associated with charity. Although the piece was originally performed only during Lent, since the 19th century it has been more commonly performed around Christmas.

This is the first time since 1993 that the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) has performed Handel’s Messiah, and it was an uplifting end to the 2009 Masters series. With Nicholas Kraemer at the helm, the orchestra was scaled back to a simple Baroque group (strings, oboes, trumpets, continuo and harpsichord) and was once again superbly supported by the WASO Chorus (directed by Marilyn Phillips). The music was crisp, tight and produced goose bumps numerous times.

The four soloists were each outstanding. Stephen Bennett (bass), Angus Wood (tenor), Sally-Anne Russell (mezzo soprano), and Sara Macliver (soprano), each brought great depth of emotion to their Arias and Recitatives. Their diction was outstanding as I was able to understand each and every word, although I found Russell’s voice didn’t carry as well as the others which was disappointing as she had the bulk of the piece.

The WASO Chorus was probably the best I’ve ever heard; although I would suggest some participants need to practice looking interested when not singing (it’s a bad look, when your nails are more interesting than the orchestra in front of you). Again, as a whole their diction was excellent and their timing mostly superb.

Lead by Associate Concert Master Margaret Blades, the orchestra was in fine form. Special mention must go to the excellent trumpet work by one of the players (I’m assuming it was Principal David Elton, but it didn’t specify in the program). Also of note was WASO Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Paul Daniel on Continuo, who played with as much movement and grace as he does when conducting.

Scottish born Kraemer began his career as a harpsichordist before moving into conducting orchestras from the harpsichord. He did the same with WASO, and it was fascinating to watch his fingers flying over the keyboard and through the air (often at the same time, with one hand playing and one hand conducting). If the orchestra felt they’d lost a full time conductor, it didn’t show, and it added an extra element to an already outstanding piece.

Handel’s Messiah is a brilliant piece, and the WASO Orchestra and Chorus took the audience on a beautiful journey. Let’s hope that it is less than sixteen years before they perform it again.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Handel's Messiah

Venue: Perth Concert Hall
Dates/Time: 7.30pm, Friday 27 & Saturday 28 November
Tickets: $38.00 - $85.00
Bookings: WASO 9326 0000 and www.waso.com.au | BOCS www.bocsticketing.com.au and 9484 1133

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