Handel's Messiah is one of the most frequently performed works in the choral repertoire and it's not easy to bring something fresh to a performance. Yet that's exactly what the Phoenix Choir managed to do on Saturday. Under the direction of Michael Fields, and in front of a packed church, the ensemble produced a Messiah that played well to audience expectations but at the same time was pleasingly different.
Fields is an internationally-acclaimed lutenist and this was evident in his approach. From the outset, we knew it was going to be no ordinary Messiah. Tenor Julian Podger emerged up the centre aisle in dramatic style, as Isaiah prophesying salvation. Many of the solo arias were performed as chamber music, reducing the full violin section down to a single player plus archlute. This, together with the distinctive embellishments of the soloists, gave those numbers a feeling of intimacy and spontaneity.
The four soloists, including world-renowned soprano (and Patron of the Phoenix Choir) Evelyn Tubb, embraced the drama and sang with beauty and feeling. The Alto-Soprano duet 'He shall feed his flock' and the Tenor sequence 'Thy rebuke' and 'Behold and see' were just two of the genuinely moving moments.
The choir, joined for this performance by guest singers from Maastricht, sang with sensitivity and produced a strong, warm and balanced sound throughout. Much work had clearly been done on diction and dynamic contrast and the singers are to be applauded for the result. Even the tougher choruses, such as 'And he shall purify' were delivered with confidence and obvious enjoyment. This was an exciting and original performance with many fine moments, accomplished singing and lovely playing.
St Saviour's Church, Eastbourne, February 2015