Canberra Choral Society, Handel’s Messiah, Llewellyn Hall, Saturday, December 14.
In his excellent book, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening, Christopher Small reminds us that ''any performance … should be judged finally on its success in bringing into existence for as long as it lasts a set of relationships that those taking part feel to be ideal and in enabling those taking part to explore, affirm, and celebrate those relationships''.
Saturday evening's performance of Handel's Messiah was a resounding success by these standards.
Small also writes that an act of ''musicking'' which acknowledges the contributions of audience, administrators and extended family as well as each performer, ''is in fact a way of knowing our world - not that pre-given physical world, divorced from human experience … but the experiential world of relationships in all its complexity - and in knowing it, we learn how to live well in it''.
In the current political environment with the daily threat of forced unemployment, projects such as Canberra Choral Society's Messiah are a victory for the positive energy of music to empower and define communities.
Conductor Graham Abbott, well loved for his erudite Keys to Music ABC Radio National programs, was in excellent form, guiding and energising the large choir with his clear communication and emphatic beat. Barbara Gilby displayed the leadership Canberra audiences admire so greatly, blending the individual members of the Canberra Choral Society Orchestra, in a tight rehearsal schedule, into a cohesive ensemble. The flourishes and rippling semiquaver cascades of the demanding score had a taut vitality and provided a sympathetic, responsive accompaniment for the soloists.
Zoe Pepper added warm woodwind notes to the bass line with her bassoon. One of the pleasures of the Messiah is that every different performance usually aligns a different combination of soloists. The various qualities of each voice mean that every interpretation of the Airs will be new. Star of the show was tenor Robert Macfarlane, whose unfailing enthusiasm was matched by a rich voice that filled the auditorium.
Thus Saith the Lord provided bass Andrew Collis with a solo in which he displayed the range of colours in his pleasing voice. Tobias Cole exchanged his place as musical director for the role of alto soloist and sang with dazzling brilliance in Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive, continuing to ride the wave of energy provided by the chorus in O Thou that Tellest.
Soprano Janet Todd has a surprisingly powerful voice for her slender build, and her performance of I Know that My Redeemer Liveth had refreshing momentum.
The ultimate accolade must go to the chorus of the Canberra Choral Society, whose members dedicated their spare time to provide a regal Canberra 2013 performance of this special oratorio in celebration of the birth of the Christian year.