The orchestra was magnificent and breathed as one, holding this performance together and offering many moments of still awe. The singers of the Congleton Choral Society responded admirably and, once they had settled, produced a very beautiful sound. An experienced choral and opera singer in the audience turned to me at the end of the first half and remarked, "Well, you will go a long way before you hear a choir so well balanced and with such an attractive sound."
The main problem with this performance was the absence of the choir's Music Director, Christopher Cromar, who was indisposed. When singers have been drilled in rehearsals for many weeks, the replacement of the person on the rostrum shortly before the concert is a huge challenge, and so it proved, with some choruses starting hesitantly.
John Pomphrey graciously stood in with the baton at very short notice. He is an experienced conductor and musician and did a very able job, but unsurprisingly gave his own steer on tempi and dynamics which unsettled the singers at times.
Putting unfortunate circumstances aside, it must be recorded that this choir is a jewel in Congleton's crown. The tone and articulation that they offer is exceptional. The alto section drives the sound and energy in this ensemble, providing a warm 'chocolate' middle to the timbre upon which the sopranos can soar with great effect. Performances by similar groups from towns that have five times the population of Congleton are frequently not nearly as satisfying in quality and atmosphere. The town should be proud.
Many small amateur choirs are lacking in the male sections, but not this one. The basses could do with more projection of sound, but their contribution was solid and the tenors ably matched the warmth of the alto section.
The choir was at times able to communicate with its usual verve. This was particularly felt in the chorus All we like sheep, where the audience could profoundly feel 'the iniquity of us all'.
The four soloists were young people from the Royal Northern College of Music and gave fine performances. Richard Hansen is a New Zealand born tenor with a 'British' tone who can really communicate. Personal thanks to Richard for being able to articulate the phrase Comfort ye so that it didn't sound like an invitation to 'come for tea'.
Emma Stannard is a mezzo-soprano with gorgeous tones to the middle and top of her voice; her rendition of He was Despised made us all sit up and listen. Stuart Orme is a bass with equal quality of voice and this young singer met the responsibility of The trumpet shall sound, a central element towards the climax of any Messiah performance, with solid conviction.
Our soprano for the evening, Charlotte Richardson, was perhaps on best form. Her sound is supported and grounded; this gives her a solid base from which one gets the impression that her facility and potential are great.
This was a very pleasing evening; there was more than enough to send the audience away happy and having experienced Messiah in an interpretation close to what the composer would have himself heard.
The Choral Society's next concert is 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' on Saturday 17th December at the Town Hall. The choir's 2017 season opens on Saturday 1st April with Bach's dramatic St John Passion. For more information about the choir visit the web site at www.congletonchoralsociety.org.uk.
Written by a member of the audience