REVIEW: Messiah, Ripon Choral Society, Ripon Cathedral

Soraya Mafi
Soraya Mafi

Messiah was unlike anything Handel had written previously in having no story. Instead he wrote an inspired string of musical items exploring the passion and resurrection of Christ.

On occasions the music plumbs the depth of despair as in the air “He was despised…” but also reaches extremes of human joy (“Unto us a child is born…”).

He provides the listener with quiet contemplation (“How beautiful are the feet…”) and bubbles over with energy and optimism in the Hallelujah chorus.

Ripon Choral Society has been directed for almost two decades by John Dunford and he can be proud that he has put the choir into the top rank of Yorkshire amateur choirs.

Though they have performed Messiah nine times out of the past 10 years there was a freshness about this occasion which dispelled any thought that this would be a routine concert.

The choir has 170 singing members who reat confidence in their conductor’s ability to take them through performances of the highest quality.

The balance of the choir is good and words come through with commendable clarity.

In choruses like “Unto us a child is born” there was pleasing lightness turning to thrilling power as the chorus progresses to “His name shall be called Wonderful, Councellor, …….”

In this and other choruses each part could be heard clearly whilst blending with the other parts– choral singing at its very best.

Of course, the orchestra play an important part in any performance. Orchestra D’Amici rose to the occasion responding to every nuance from the conductor.

It played with great sensitivity, creating the ideal balance of sound when accompanying the soloists.

Special mention needs to be made of the contribution of the trumpeter, Jim Stretton, not only for “The trumpet shall sound” but also for his beautifully balanced playing throughout.

Choice of soloists is very important and the decision needs to be made whether to use a contralto or counter tenor.

There are strong views about this and some conductors choose to use both.

The choice was Matthew Lennox, an experienced counter tenor who sings with the Cathedral Choir. The voice is very beautiful and his projection of words commendable but it proved too light to carry effectively to the back of the Cathedral.

To a lesser extent the same could be said of the tenor, Edward Rimmer, who is also a member of the Cathedral Choir.

Again a fine voice with excellent diction was only properly appreciated by those closer to the performers.

The young soprano, Soraya Mafi, was ideal for the part and it is not surprising to learn that she is establishing a considerable performing career.

Her voice is clear, flexible and remarkably suited to Handel.

The excellent bass, Adam Green, has extensive concert experience and was an ideal choice for this performance.

This was an uplifting experience for all concerned and the performers should be proud of their contributions.