As the booklet notes disclose this recording was made
in conjunction with a television film, Messiah, broadcast by
ABC and also available on DVD. There are some colour stills in the booklet
that may come from the televised performance – Velasquez red and bible
black – made in the Cardinal Cerretti Memorial Chapel in Manly. It is
a youthful performance, with young soloists, a new orchestra and a professional
choir. The orchestra is the Orchestra of the Antipodes – at least it’s
better than the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment or Orchestre
Révolutionnaire et Romantique (Woolf’s Law of orchestral names;
the more pretentious the name the worse the band). Cantillation is a
fine choir, versatile and tonally flexible. The stage is set for a vigorous
and enjoyable performance.
Antony Walker’s Sinfony to Part One is unusually grave,
and well shaped. Tenor Paul McMahon floats some rather floridly excessive
ornaments in Comfort ye and there is a poor edit I think at 1.05
into his Ev’ry Valley. A promising musician his singing here
isn’t climactic enough. Bass Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Christchurch born) has
a tendency slightly to stint on note values (as in Thus saith the
Lord) though he has an intrinsically fine and authoritative voice.
Antony Walker has engaged a countertenor, Christopher Field, twenty-five
at the time of the recording and one who has an intriguing and potentially
valuable part to play in musical life. A sweet voice, ringing and full
at the top where intonation doesn’t falter and vibrance is maintained,
it’s as yet rather unformed at the bottom where it lacks resonance.
The result – as in But who may abide – is at the moment a case
of two voices, imperfectly equalized, and one that finds some of the
runs still awkward, revealing technical problems yet to be overcome.
But Field has obvious potential and I hope we hear much more of him.
Alexandra Sherman’s O thou that tellest is full of musical shape
though the voice here isn’t what I’d call a versatile alto, lacking
colour. The chorus makes itself unambiguously heard in For unto us
a child is born – especially some very well drilled sopranos and
in Rejoice greatly soprano Sara Macliver evokes a certain expressive
purity (especially in some excellent high notes) whilst contrasting
this with an almost breathless elation. Sherman’s He was despised
is actually relatively slow, though avoiding the merely reverential.
Chances of dramatic display see Rhodes sturdy and masculine in Why
do the nations but the tone is not really centred to a core and
McMahon is equability itself in Thou shalt break them – his runs
are explicitly mocking and he seems to see the aria as an exercise in
irony. As a cure for this peculiar delusion I suggest he listens to
Walter Widdop’s recording of it for an hour a day for the next fourteen
years. Much better is Macliver’s I know my Redeemer liveth –
with its crystalline certainties and force. But once again contemporary
singers lack the heft of their predecessors – Rhodes’ The trumpet
shall sound which, with Horace Stevens and trumpeter Ernest Hall
was so stirring, is here decent but tepid.
All this sounds rather like a litany of complaint and
nostalgic reflections on the great Handelians of the past. But there
are some fine things here; it’s generally well paced, though not without
its idiosyncrasies, and ornamentation is kept to within reasonable stylistic
bounds. In the end though Messiah lives through voice and sinew and
heart and there’s not enough of them here.