AN authentic version of Handel's Messiah was presented at Unisa on Saturday night, - every single note of it. The virtue of the Bach Choir's marathon performance, -- it was nearly 11.30 pm by the time they reached the final Amen - was that anyone who had not previously heard Messiah in its entirety now knows why it is usually cut.
It was an averagely compettent but unexciting performance, notable for the heroic efforts of the four tenors in the choir. They managed to keep their line audible for 80 percent of the time, though not without some signs of strain.
Maestro Peyer has obviously thought deeply about this work and did not bring us a routine performance. Some of his tempi were interesting but not exceptionable.
There seemed at times, however, to be a lack of communication. There were some ragged, even completely missed, entries, and moments when the orchestra got out of step with the choir or soloist. The choir needs to cultivate a crisper attack. A more precise stick would have helped.
The size of the orchestra may have been a matter of economics as much as anything but was also artistically right. It could have been even smaller. Three cellos and two basses were rather to heavy for the harpsichord continuo in the recitatives.
Gabrielle Duve made a sterling contribution to the evening. The harpsichord came clearly through the texture of the small orchestra. This was helped by the dry acoustics which seemed to favour the plucked string tone, and indeed string tone generally, over the voices.
The lack of resonance in the choral tone was surely due to the acoustics.
In commenting on the soloists, some allowance must be made for the fact that they were obviously struggling with the acoustics. The tenor, Sjoerd Beute, fared the best. His clear, forward tone came over well with no sense of strain.
Stella Beder has a contralto voice of lovely quality but she does not project it sufficiently. She tends to sing more to herself - or her book - than to the audience. If she, would share her singing with her listeners, give herself more to them, something fine, might he forthcoming.
The bass part was taken by Jaco van der Merwe. He has a fine mellow voice but a rather gusty style, giving the feeling that the voice is not always completely under control. Antoine de Ley's playing of the trumpet solo inThe Trumpet Shall Soundwas all that we have come to expect from this excellent player.
Hilary Thomas uses her voice beautifully, though I felt that the soprano part was not entirely suited to her distinctive style. It was, however, a musical and intelligent rendering. I particularly liked her final solo,If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?
Players and singers alike weathered their endurance test well, though there were signs of their audience wilting a little, despite the comfortable seating. We are grateful for a complete Messiah, even if we have a sneaking feeling that we will opt for the cuts next time.