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Triumphant Messiah at Burghclere

Burghclere Baroque: Handel’s Messiah at The Church of the Ascension, Burghclere, on Friday, December 22


Messiah, Theresa Caudle Pic: James Lewin
Messiah, Theresa Caudle Pic: James Lewin

THE Church of the Ascension in Burghclere was witness to a stunning second reading of Handel’s Messiah, with Burghclere Baroque directed from the violin by Theresa Caudle.

After Caudle’s triumph with the same work two years ago, the word was out, making a sell-out inevitable.

By performing this adored work scaled down to one to a part, everyone in the band had to be on high alert and on top of their game – and indeed they were.

Theresa Caudle
Theresa Caudle

Two wonderful natural trumpets, Tom Thornton and James Kelly, timpani with Alex Duncan and organ continuo with Sebastian Gillot fused effortlessly with the string band made up of violone (Andrew Kerr), Jacob Garside cello, Alice Poppleton viola, Sophie Simpson and first violin Caudle, all of them worthy of mention.

They were light and nimble, but with an unusually warm tone that was a far cry from most sinewy baroque productions.

Provided with this wonderful foundation of sound, the singers were confident of giving of their best and so they did from the moment the determined tenor Robin Datta stepped up and surveyed each and every one of us before so delicately pronouncing those immortal lines Comfort Me. We were enthralled.

Phillipa Hyde
Phillipa Hyde

Philippa Hyde, a returning star of Burghclere Baroque, sang with her usual effortless elegannt poise saving her best to her last solo If God Be for Us.

With the pared back strings, her rendition had added delicacy against the solo strings and organ continuo.

If I had to pick out a stand out moment, then the sorrowful Air in Part the Second; He was Despised and Rejected began with the band striking up a plaintif air, then alto Joy Sutcliffe motionless, eyes closed for minutes even after the band began... we thought she would never move, but then she looked up and took us all in and as those painful words tumbled like tears – we were all moved.

A feature of the evening was the way the soloists sang to each and every one of us as if this was the first time these words had been spoken. It felt so personal. The sound, clarity and balance with the voices created a unique experience.

I have never heard so much detail, such as in the descending diminuendo, which always take the listener by surprise in what is almost a silence of the phrases dying embers the strings trilling harmoniously, something lost in a larger setting.

Am I allowed to say how nice it was to see several bows that were made locally? [Arts ed: at Philip Brown’s own Newbury workshop].

The cast of heavenly voices had to make late changes due to illness; sopranos Philippa Hyde, Lizi Vineall, the latter replaced Jenni Harper. Dominic Felts was majesticly commanding. And the Ripeno Singers were sopranos Diana Gough and Lucy Makin, alto Austin Hayes also supported Sutcliffe by taking some of the earlier solos, Timothy Wilcox tenor and Andrew Harper bass.

A fine performance.

The concert was supported by the Greenham Trust, which is match-funding donations generously given by individuals through The Good Exchange.

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