A delightful Messiah from students of the Royal Academy of Music and the Sudbury Choral Society

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Handel, Messiah (HWV 56): Clara Orif (soprano), Oryna Veselovska (mezzo-soprano), James Edgeler (tenor), Thomas Butler (bass), musicians, Sudbury Choral Society / John Chillingworth (conductor). Sudbury Arts Centre, Sudbury, 14.4.2024. (MG)

[l-r] Clara Orif (soprano), Oryna Veselovska (mezzo-soprano), James Edgeler (tenor) and Thomas Butler (bass)

Hot on the heels of the Bach Easter Passions, Sudbury Choral Society chose to celebrate their homecoming to Sudbury Arts Centre in St Peter’s with Handel’s Messiah. The building, a statuesque, Perpendicular-period, deconsecrated church (fruit of the town’s thriving, late medieval wool trade) has undergone a two-and-a-half-year renovation. One immediate benefit is the heating for which, in England’s variable Spring weather, many were grateful. Messiah, the La bohème of oratorios, is a crowd-pleaser. It was good to see this delightful venue packed, as it had been for last November’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem at Saint Gregory’s.

Had the heating not been functioning, conductor John Chillingworth’s brisk, energetic tempi were sufficient to warm remaining cold hearts. Melodious and familiar as the arias and choruses of Messiah might be, without tight, crisp rhythm, the music can sag. What should be a delicious soufflé can swiftly be reduced to a soggy, inedible mush. But with the help of the Chillingworth rhythm section, comprised of son Adam on harpsichord (a debut for this instrument with Sudbury Choral Society) and wife Angela on double bass, such an outcome was never likely. The Chillingworths were bolstered by strong support from their fellow musicians, even if the extended legato lines of the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ eluded them on the night. A special mention must go to trumpeter Ian Abbott for his musical rendition of ‘The Trumpet shall Sound.’ Strong, forthright singing from the choir was inspired by Chillingworth’s energetic lead. Picking up the baton, otherwise conducting with hands throughout, he led them through an invigorating rendition of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ An enchanted audience – most on their feet, as is proper – rewarded the choir with an impromptu round of applause. A standing ovation greeted the end of the performance.

John Chillingworth conducts the Sudbury Choral Society’s Messiah

After twenty years as principal cello with the now sadly benighted English National Opera, Chillingworth has developed a Pappano-like empathy with his fortunate singers. Two (soprano, Clara Orif and bass, Thomas Butler) were familiar from November’s Mozart Requiem. Indeed, Butler had given us a foretaste then of what was to come, with a rendition of ‘Thus Saith the Lord.’ A former St John’s College Cambridge choral scholar – and in common with all of the soloists currently a student at the Royal Academy of Music – Butler’s healthy, resonant bass-baritone suggests that former choirmaster George Guest’s open-throated legacy (ex-St John’s choristers include Sir Simon Keenlyside and other distinguished alumni) is safe. Butler’s technique is solid, the top of his voice free and secure, even if he is, as yet, a little too cool and copy-bound to capitalise on the drama of ‘Why do the Nations’ and ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound.’

Clara Orif is another very accomplished singer, her tone bright and forward, a communicative performer, sometimes coming out to her audience when inviting them in would have been the better option. ‘I Know that my Redeemer Liveth,’ though vocally accomplished, lacked the dramatic maturity which will arrive with age.

Conversely, the Ukrainian mezzo-soprano, Oryna Veselovska, her English diction as impeccable as it is exemplary, drew us in with an effortless, warm-toned delivery and sensitivity to the text, in what turned out to be the evening’s most moving performance.

According to his biography, tenor James Edgeler’s work so far has centred around oratorio. A strong, warm middle register, displaying the vuoto sound beloved of the Italian tradition, and a surprising, interpolated top B (even if it did not quite come off) at the end of ‘Every Valley’, helped justify the rare inclusion of ‘Thou Art Gone Up on High’ (more often sung by a bass) and served notice of a voice to watch, with definite operatic potential.

It is clear from this performance that the Royal Academy of Music’s vocal department is doing something very right. One can only hope that Sudbury Choral Society succeeds in maintaining their relationship with the conservatoire so as to ensure future evenings as delightful as this one.

Mark Glanville

1 thought on “A delightful Messiah from students of the Royal Academy of Music and the Sudbury Choral Society”

Leave a Comment