Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by: Umberto Clerici
Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Dec 2022
Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans
Musicians choose when to retire, as do most of the rest of us. NZSO musicians get to choose their own party music from the season’s programme. Michael Cuncannon (viola) and Yury Gezentsvey (principal first violin) chose the Messiah. In a relaxed but expectant and almost full house, Yury’s family had brought a banner reading “We love Yury”, which brought a smile to his face that remained for the whole show.
Umberto Clerici was conducting George Frideric Handel’s Messiah for the first time but you wouldn’t have known that from his confidence on the podium. The orchestra was reduced in number to a chamber orchestra. Clerici used this to great effect; he exposed the music and brought details to our attention. His use of tempo, volume, accent and attack, rise and fall, and a lyrical tone made the phrases shine. This is a very melodic work and, although it is a perennial Christmas feature, even new listeners would be surprised by how much sounds familiar.
The soloists and the wonderful Tudor Consort choir, supported by the orchestra, gave us many exceptional musical moments throughout the 48 verses. The soloists all started well and got better. Tenor Lila Crichton had a lovely, strong but also tender legato voice which perfectly suited the opening lyrics about seeking comfort and exalting the valleys. Last minute replacement bass-baritone Samson Setu stepped up with his own magnificent opening verse. His voice seemed much more mature than would be expected in someone so young. In his opening aria he sang of shaking the heavens and his technique made his voice shake distinctly and properly, not something you always hear in other performances.
Mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble also impressed with her lovely expressive voice and soprano Emma Pearson likewise excelled in her part. In her final aria, rejoicing as Christ is risen, I was certain she sang with the voice of a true believer.