THE souvenir programme for the Bearsden Choir’s Golden Anniversary concert of Handel’s Messiah (itself something of a bargain at a mere £2) included memories of earlier concerts from choir members. Sunday afternoon’s performance of the work which the choir was convened to perform in Bearsden’s Rio Cinema 50 years ago went out of its way to add to the story.

With tenor soloist, and the choir’s honorary president, Jamie MacDougall, indisposed, and the pre-advertised bass Tristan Hambleton also absent, the event had already recruited two high-quality deps in Ben Smith and South African baritone Dawid Kimberg.

Then soprano Monica McGhee fainted during her first aria, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, and chorus master and conductor Andrew Nunn called an early interval while she was revived and led backstage. Although that process was dealt with professionally, and Ms McGhee has happily able to return to the stage for the curtain call (to relieved cheers from the capacity house), it did necessitate a hastily re-edited performance.

Smith took on But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell, but a Messiah without How beautiful are the feet and, particularly, I know that my Redeemer liveth, to begin Part Three, is inevitably diminished.

The chorus did seem a little unsettled on His yoke is easy, after the enforced break, but quickly recovered composure for the challenging sequence in Part Two. The choir’s altos were a particularly coherent ensemble for their opening entries throughout the score, and the gentlemen of the tenors were also a very precise pack when it really mattered. Instrumentally, all the singers were hugely helped by the choir’s regular accompanist Christopher Nickol, nimbly leaping between harpsichord and chamber organ, with the McOpera Ensemble cellist Sarah Harrington adding crucial continuo playing.

The sole soloist appearing as advertised was mezzo Penelope Cousland, whose beautiful tone and nicely measured ornamentation made He was despised one of the highlights of the performance.

The major credit, however, has to go to Nunn, whose first Messiah this was, but whose direction of the work would have been worthy of high praise without the afternoon’s added excitement.

Review link—bearsden-choir-city-halls-glasgow/