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Abbott leads a reflective and dramatic ‘Messiah’

Handel Messiah. Celeste Lazarenko, Anna Pierard, Andrew Goodwin, Hadleigh Adams, Orpheus Choir, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Graham Abbott. Michael Fowler Centre, 7 December. Reviewed by John Button.

For the last few years the annual ‘Messiah’ has been a NZSO initiative and conducting duties have been shared by a number of Australians and the baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan. This year it was back, for the third time, to Graham Abbott, a conductor who was conducting his 75th performance of the work.

Not surprisingly he offered us predictability; a complete knowledge of the work, a freshness somehow maintained after a lifetime of conducting the work and a splendid mix of the reflective and the dramatic.

In this he was supported by the Orpheus Choir (last time he had the much smaller Tudor Consort ) and they sang, as they always do in ‘Messiah’, with subtlety in the quieter moments and tremendous verve in the dramatic choruses.

Abbott always favours a smallish orchestra of just over 30 players, and although occasionally I thought a bigger band might have balanced things against the choir of 130 or so voices, but this was not really a problem and the playing was, as always, superbly polished and alive.

The soloists were a slightly mixed bag. The two male singers were splendidly direct with Hadleigh Adams’ rich bass/baritone full of character and Anna Pierard was the excellent mezzo, but soprano Celeste Lazarenko was lacking in projection.

One could not really compare this with those ‘Messiahs’ we have heard under McGegan. This world renowned baroque specialist offered a dynamic contrast – absolutely brilliant ‘Hallelujah’ choruses and, roof raising ‘The trumpet shall sound’ and ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ – that was not quite equalled here. But, like everything else, it was still extremely well done, justifying the extended applause at the end.

But after so many ‘Messiahs’ I would love to hear, just for a change, the Mozart orchestration of the work – slightly odd in places but with a wonderful colour from a much fuller woodwind section.

John Button – Dominion Post 8 December 2019


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