Review: Joy of the performers was crowning glory of this wonderful presentation of musical masterpiece at historic Burnley church

The last two years have been difficult for so many arts organisations.

By Susan Plunkett
Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 12:30 pm
Handel's Messiah was performed at St Peter's Church in Burnley
Handel's Messiah was performed at St Peter's Church in Burnley

Rehearsals were unable to continue, concerts were cancelled and the mental and physical benefits of being creative with others was taken away from so many of us.

It is testament to the strength of The Burnley Municipal Choir, under the musical direction of Nigel Wilkinson, that they have bounced back magnificently. Indeed they were sounding better than ever.

Having missed the entirety of their centenary season in 2020 they opened their 2021/2022 season with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in October, followed by a performance on Saturday of Handel’s Messiah at St Peter's Church in Burnley.

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Applause from the audience from the performers who took part in a presentation of the Messiah at St Peter's Church in Burnley

The Messiah reflects on the whole of Christ’s life but it has become something of a northern tradition to perform it

during Advent and some surreptitious editing of the score, which Handel himself would I’m sure have approved, made for a wonderful start to the Christmas season.

The East Lancashire Sinfonia, led excellently by Karen Hoyle, set us off in great style with a particularly finely played Fugue section to the Overture. We then met our first soloist.

From the outset our tenor, Nicholas Watts produced a beautiful lyrical sound and had an immediate rapport with the audience. This was followed by the first contribution from the choir and a foretaste of their magnificent singing throughout. Every time I hear them their tone and dynamic range has improved and they really have developed into a very fine chorus over the last few years.

Dean Robinson, our bass soloist, sang without music throughout the evening and this enabled him to communicate so well with the audience with his lovely rich tone, in a work he obviously knows and loves.

His first recitative was accompanied by the excellent continuo section of the orchestra, provided by Peter Collier on harpsichord and Claire Babington on cello. Their accompaniment was sensitive and supportive throughout the evening.

Burnley’s own Kathleen Wilkinson had just returned from Berlin, where she had been singing Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, for a very rare performance of the Messiah, indeed her first in her home town. Her contribution to the evening was as accomplished as ever and her resonant mezzo was a highlight throughout the evening.

Our final soloist was a late replacement because of illness. You would never have guessed though and the soprano, Rachel Abbott made a magnificent contribution to the evening especially in her recitatives in part one.

Mention must also be made of the great trumpet playing from another Burnley based musician. Jimmy Hoyle provided another highlight of the evening in accompanying Dean in The Trumpet Shall Sound.

It was the choir who were the real stars of the evening, though, and this was seen to magnificent effect in the famous Hallelujah Chorus, performed in traditional style to a standing audience. They produced a rich sonorous sound that filled the beautiful church in a way I imagine has rarely been equalled in its 899-year history.

The most lasting impression of the evening was not strictly musical though. It was the evident joy from every performer. Collective music making has huge benefits for all involved, both performers and audience and it is something that I have sorely missed over the last two years.

The true spirit of Christmas is joy in the company of family and friends and that was perfectly exemplified in this

fabulous evening of music making.

Dave Warren