Delicious choices of the oddly seasonal Messiah afoot

Delicious choices of the oddly seasonal Messiah afoot Robert Hollingworth
Pat O’Kelly


Not surprisingly, December reaps its usual crop of Handel’s Messiah even if the work relates to Christ’s Passion and Resurrection as much as to His Nativity. Messiah covers the Church’s year from advent to advent with Christ Triumphant as its magnificent coda.

Along with the Irish Baroque Orchestra, the choral group Resurgam, directed by visiting English conductor Robert Hollingworth, takes the oratorio to the National Opera House in Wexford this evening (Thursday, December 6), Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral tomorrow (Friday, December 7) and Galway’s Cathedral on Saturday, December 8. Resurgam’s soloists are Anna Devin, William Purefoy, Dean Power and Alex Ashworth.

Belfast’s Philharmonic Choir joins the Ulster Orchestra at the city’s Waterfront Hall also tomorrow evening under Handel connoisseur Laurence Cummings. The Phil’s soloists comprise Irish soprano Ailish Tynan, Dutch mezzo Cécile van der Sant, English tenor Nicholas Mulroy and Norwegian bass Njår Sparbo.

Continuing its long association with Messiah, Our Lady’s Choral Society presents three performances at the National Concert Hall on December 12, 13 and 14. Under music director Proinnsias Ó Duinn, the indefatigable RTÉCO supports Sarah Brady, Patricia Bardon, Andrew Gavin and Padraic Rowan.

My earliest memories of Messiah bring me back to childhood and Dublin’s Capitol Theatre. Taken by a dear aunt to an Our Lady’s Sunday matinee I can’t recall the actual performance, but I remember a front-of-house usher, on seeing me, courteously informing the aunt: “No pictures I’m afraid today, Mam.” With the somewhat imperious response, “I am well aware of that”, the good lady guided me to the balcony.

Main stay

Among other seasonal events the Goethe Institute Choir, under its conductor John Dexter, will be at the NCH on Monday, December 17 making Cantatas 1, 3 and 4 from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio the main stay of its programme. Accompanied by the Goethe Ensemble, the soloists are Katy Kelly, Christina Whyte, Eoghan Desmond and Gyula Nagy.

Written in Leipzig in 1734, Bach’s Oratorio opens with high trumpets and stirring timpani in the exuberant Jauchzet, frohlocket! (Rejoice, exult!) – one of the glories of the choral repertoire.

Neither Bach nor Handel find a niche in Chamber Choir Ireland’s Christ Church Cathedral concert on Sunday, December 16. Instead, conductor Paul Hillier prefers Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) and his setting of the Mass based on the plain chant Christmas introit Puer natus est nobis. The programme also offers Britten, Pärt and traditional carols.

CCI’s recent Before Bach and After programme in Dublin’s St Ann’s Church brought three related, and fascinating, pieces by Maynooth-born David Fennessy. I find Letter to Michael, haunting, unsettling and, at times, beseechingly innocent. Slow and soft to begin, Ne reminiscaris (Remember not), which pays homage to renaissance Orlando Lassus, gradually rises to an ecstatic apex before the final Japanese inspired Hashima Refrain. Disquieting on the one hand and consolatory on the other, CCI responds with unfailing assurance and virtuosity to Fennessy’s ingenious blending of simplicity and complexity in each piece.

Fennessy (b.  1976) studied with John Feeley at DIT’s College of Music before moving to James MacMillan at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatory where he is now a lecturer.