Review: Messiah a fitting herald of the Christmas season
Messiah at the Waterfront Hall
The annual performances of Handel's oratorio Messiah lies at the heart of the musical Christmas season, though it is equally impressive at Easter, and indeed all the year round.
The success of Messiah since its first performance in Dublin in 1742 lies in the combination of its dramatic Biblical story and its wonderful setting for soloists, choir and orchestra.
This appeals to the believer and the non-believer alike, though it would be reasonable to assume that in contemporary Ulster which still has arguably the highest church attendance per capita in the British Isles, the religious content of Messiah is the paramount attraction.
People sometimes overlook the superb libretto of Charles Jennens from the Old and New Testaments which is the literary backbone of Messiah, but the main focus is on the music which is captivating right from the short overture.
Under the expert direction of conductor Paul Daniels, the Ulster Orchestra and the four soloists produced highly professional performances, and the oratorio was driven at a brisk pace which moved the story along without losing the dramatic impact.
The only slight caveat was the seating of the soloists at the side rather than centre stage which was a slight distraction.
However, the real stars of the evening were the members of the 130-voiced Belfast Philharmonic Choir, which has performed Messiah regularly since 1876, just two years after its establishment.
Their contribution to this year's Messiah was outstanding, with precision, passion and great musicality and, for this, much credit is also due to their chorus master Stephen Doughty.
From their first chorus "And the glory of the Lord", through the famous Hallelujah chorus, right to the magnificent Worthy is the Lamb, and the powerful Amen, this was a performance to remember.