Handel's 'The Messiah' proves to be a full-on experience at the Waterfront

The Belfast Philharmonic Choir contributed fully to a memorable performance of ‘The Messiah’The Belfast Philharmonic Choir contributed fully to a memorable performance of ‘The Messiah’
The Belfast Philharmonic Choir contributed fully to a memorable performance of ‘The Messiah’
​’The Messiah’ is one of those major works which divides opinion. Many of the regular season supporters of the Ulster Orchestra rarely if ever attend an annual Messiah performance while a host of others, who are rarely seen at the Ulster Hall, flock to the Waterfront Hall to hear Handel’s masterpiece.

So it was on Saturday night when the Waterfront Hall had the largest Messiah audience since before the pandemic, and the management opened the choir stall for extra seating – something which has not happened for quite some time.

For many ‘The Messiah’ is the real start of Christmas, and people travelled long distances on a stormy winter’s night to hear the Ulster Orchestra, the Belfast Philharmonic Choir and soloists give a memorable performance of this sacred work.

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Unfortunately the first half was marred early on by an intrusive high-pitched sound which interfered with the performance. There was much to-ing and fro-ing and opening and closing of doors as the Waterfront Hall staff tried to sort out the problem. At one point the tenor Joshua Ellicott left the stage, and one wondered if he too was trying to help.

I believe that the problem was caused by a high wind hitting a vent at a difficult angle, and eventually the problem was solved. In the meantime the performance had continued unabated, as ‘The Messiah’ moved through its majestic stages so beloved by those to whom this oratorio contains the essence of the Christian story from cradle to grave and beyond that.

The Ulster Orchestra was under the direction of Tom Fetherstonhaugh, the assistant conductor of the prestigious Bournemouth Symphony, and he was a model of precision and control from start to finish.

The soloists were also impressive – Rebecca Murphy soprano, Niamh O’Sullivan mezzo-soprano, tenor Joshua Ellicott and bass-baritone Ashleigh Riches all sang with sensitivity and understanding, and none more so than in the Air with the words from Isaiah: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

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The Philharmonic, under their new chorus director James Grossmith, is currently in fine form, and they were particularly impressive as they soared through the rippling choruses right to the mighty Great Amen which brought the concert to a triumphant end and a deserved standing ovation.

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