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Handel - Messiah
Anna Devin – soprano
Michal Czerniawski – counter tenor
Richard Butler – tenor
Derek Welton - bass

Solomon Choir & Orchestra / Jonathan Sells
St James’s, Piccadilly - 27 March 2008

This was the debut concert of the Solomon Choir and Orchestra under their founding conductor Jonathan Sells: a group of talented young professionals fired by obvious enthusiasm for the music.

They had recruited four fine soloists for the occasion.  Anna Devin and Derek Welton are already known to London audiences following their successes in the 2007 Handel Singing Competition.    Anna Devin’s voice has a creamy warmth, which immediately kindles a response from the listener, and Derek Welton combines perfectly articulated diction with an imposing presence. 

Tenor Richard Butler comes from that refined tradition of British choristers, showing a characteristic clarity of tone, but he added a dash of real malice to his voice for the sections dealing with the mocking of Christ.

I first heard the Polish counter-tenor Michal Czerniawski a year ago, singing with Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican.  His voice is beautifully produced and he sings with great sincerity, but there were moments when I wondered whether a counter-tenor has quite the meat, especially in the lower register, for some of those big alto solos.  What was Handel’s intention for this role? – a quick dip into the notes of the recent Linn recording reminded me that, at the first performance, he divided the role between three singers: a mezzo-soprano actress, who sang A Man of Sorrows to draw out the emotional drama, and two counter-tenors who were also members of the chorus.   This sort of luxury casting would rarely be an option now, and on balance I was glad to have had the opportunity of hearing a counter-tenor on this occasion, (as indeed was the case at the first live Messiah I heard in 1952 when Alfred Deller joined with Isobel Baillie, Gladys Ripley and Richard Lewis.)

The choir sang with calculated gusto, well supported by the period instrument orchestra.   One of the first things that struck me was how perfectly balanced the ensemble was to the size and acoustics of the venue.  The programme biography of conductor Jonathan Sells advises us that his “day job is as an opera singer, currently studying on the opera course at GSMD”; I am not sure what future course his career may take, but his is certainly a name to look out for. 

Serena Fenwick