As a reviewer one is asked to critique several Messiahs each year, so it is nice to find ‘different’ versions. The Bach Elgar Choir offered a Sing Along version on Sunday afternoon which was actually good fun. It is impossible to maintain the usual contemplative mood when the audience is required to stand and sing the choruses, especially when so many have good voices and obviously enjoy using them. This was an interactive, user friendly Messiah sung by four soloists, a choir who had rehearsed and an audience, all ably led by Artistic Director Alexander Cann.
The written 55 solos and choruses had been cut by Cann to a more manageable 29 and he assured the audience that this happened frequently right from 1741 when it was premiered in Dublin, there is even apparently a Calypso version which might have surprised Georg Frederick Handel. This year is the first time the Bach Elgar has tried such a format and Cann said it was gratifying to see so many wannabe choristers, though one suspects most do sing regularly.
The work began with the marvelous tenor solo ‘Comfort ye’ sung by Josh Clemenger. He has a rich, full voice and the acoustics at Melrose United in Hamilton are very good, so it was a lovely start. The first chorus ‘And the Glory of the Lord’ showed that most of the wannabe’s had good voices, musical knowledge and some choir experience and although the start was ragged, they improved as the afternoon progressed. The other soloists were alto Heidi Cyfko, who sounded perfect in ‘He was Despised’; bass Jeremy Ludwig, who absolutely blew us away in ‘The trumpet shall sound’; and soprano Margie Bernal, who has a lovely voice but was perhaps a little too powerful especially in ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’; a solo I feel should have an ethereal quality to it. We were also treated to occasional trumpet blasts in appropriate places from Ted Clark, and the whole thing had organ accompaniment from Ron Greidanus who gave us a ‘thumbs up’ at the start of the Hallelujah chorus to let us know he was ready.
Even though this was Messiah light and fun, there were still times of sorrow and introspection, the bass aria ‘The people that walked in darkness’ brought to mind visions of refugees and one hoped they would also move out of the shadow into the light, and the Hallelujah chorus sounds magnificent at any time. It was an interesting experience to be surrounded by that marvelous sound. Altogether this was a great way to spend a wet afternoon. The next Bach Elgar Choir concert is on April 30th, at Melrose United Church.