presented by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Saturday 8 December 2018,
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
George Frideric Handel: Messiah: an oratorio, HWV 56
Nicholas McGegan : conductor
Madeleine Pierard : soprano
Kristin Darragh : mezzo-soprano
James Egglestone : tenor
Martin Snell : bass
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
The Tudor Consort
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
tldr: the short story
Nicholas McGegan inspired a marvellous Handel’s Messiah. His conducting style was authoritative, commanding, definite, but confident and relaxed – an educative masterclass.
The soloists were fantastic, especially Madeleine Pierard and Martin Snell – their vocal technique is inherent and grounded, and consequentially they confidently transcend their performance and find ‘meaning’ in the message.
The Tudor Consort was outstanding with a musical intelligence in their performance. Their clarity and balance; their phrase sense; the quality of their tone; their delivery of dynamic development; their response to the orchestra, soloists and conductor – was superb.
The NZSO chamber orchestra displayed a perfect support for the vocalists and they responded to Nicholas McGegan’s conducting well, with spiky staccatos, flowing phrases and careful, evolved changes in dynamics.
The best ‘Messiah’ that I have heard.
The long story:
I don’t like to compare performances of the same works. I just want to focus on the version that I have just heard…
BUT my impression was that this performance was the best live ‘Messiah’ I have ever heard.
The excellence of the musicians – orchestra, choir and soloists – were the fundamental to the success of this concert, but I think they were inspired – galvanised – by the conductorship and musicianship of Nicholas McGegan. He was authoritative, commanding, definite, but confident and relaxed. He knew the music so well, he knew what the musicians were capable of, and he expected perfection – and he almost got it! His conducting style was an educative masterclass – I could visualise the musical structure, the form and change of dynamic by his gestures: delicate staccatos, circular sweeping phrases, double-dotted rhythmic motifs, swells and decrescendi. And, he found some humour in the music too! When the recitative ‘There were shepherds…‘ was almost over, the soprano declares “And suddenly…” and the choir rose abruptly as if it were witnessing an angelic host! And in the next exciting chorus, ‘Glory to God‘, when the final phrase is fading away – al niente – Nicholas reduced his gestures to a ‘tip-toes’ approach, flicking his fingers as the final staccato cadence disappeared. A true comedic ‘wink’!
Madeleine Pierard reacted to his conducting ultra-sympathetically. They were absolutely ‘in-sync’ – almost like telepathy, given that were facing away from each other. The melodic phrases and the dynamic changes, even with beat-less recitative section or the baroque ornamentation, were perfectly timed and judged. She brought a little bit of dramatic flair to her role, with infinitesimal but appreciable body language: for example, in the recitative ‘…the angel said unto them: Fear not…’ she made a peaceable hand gesture. Or in her aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ her self-reliant, almost apostolic smile was absolutely convincing. She was very comfortable in her role: her intonation was perfectly in the middle of the note with a pure, crystalline tone. Her ornamentation was thoughtful, expressive, often soft but clear – ethereal. It is hard to put into to words, but I imagined this is the voice of an angelic, laser-like manifestation of a profound truth.
Madeleine is at a stage that her vocal technique is inherent and grounded, consequentially she can confidently transcend her performance and find ‘meaning’ in the message.
That goes for Martin Snell too. His voice was robust, rich, mellow with an amazing breath control in the long phrases. Not stentorian – but it didn’t need that in this setting. His ‘Thus saith the Lord…‘ was potent and his ‘The people that walked in darkness…‘ was full with dynamic contrast – a mature and experienced rendition.
James Egglestone’s tone was marvellous and powerful and his intonation was perfect, and his voice was covered – almost too much. His opening recitative and aria and the Part 2 ‘Thy rebuke‘ were impressive, but he looked a bit musically uncomfortable in some phrases. I suspect he was focused about his vocal production and technique – his ‘means’ not his ‘message’ – so some of his vowels or words were unrecognisably ‘coloured’.
In her initial pieces Kristin Darragh was quite wayward and I thought she was trying too hard. Her intonation was slightly off and her vocal registers were not blended at all. She improved with every piece and certainly her lower register was strong and vigorous.
The clarity – the diction and enunciation – of the soloists was a feature of the concert, and that was absolutely, conspicuously true for the choir.
The Tudor Consort was outstanding.
In fact, I have to announce more forcefully, with boldness and big letters: The Tudor Consort was O-U-T-S-T-A-N-D-I-N-G.
Given the pedigree of the members in the choir, it was no surprise that there was a musical intelligence in their performance. Their clarity and balance; their phrase sense; the quality of their tone; their delivery of dynamic development; their response to the orchestra, soloists and conductor – was superb.
Even with their discipline. They rose and reposed as a body, not a clutter of individuals. They didn’t fuss with their scores, and their choreography was graceful and gracious. Their performance was thrilling, nuanced, pithy, heartfelt and gorgeous. O-U-T-S-T-A-N-D-I-N-G.
The NZSO displayed a perfect support for the vocalists. They were a chamber orchestra, suitable for the Baroque style of this concert, and they played that role well: minimal vibrato; bow speed rather than weight for dynamic variations; lightness and delicacy in their playing. They responded to Nicholas McGegan’s conducting well, with spiky staccatos, flowing phrases and careful, evolved changes in dynamics. Their accompaniment in the recitatives or continuo was deliberately unobtrusive, like a soundtrack, and the instrumental numbers – the Sinfonia at the beginning and the Pifa – were excellent. Often the orchestra was mirroring the vocal lines for the chorus numbers, but when they had a more substantial part they were a mature, sensitive and exciting ensemble – especially in the final chorus, ‘Worthy is the Lamb‘ and the Amen.