The glory of marvellous music
Handel’s Messiah South Bucks Choral Society and Amersham Festival Chamber Orchestra
WE WERE all looking for something uplifting and inspirational on a dismal misty, drizzly evening as we attended the first concert of South Bucks Choral Society’s 35th season, conducted by Iain Ledingham, on November 22.
There was a buzz in the hall as we took our seats and waited while the orchestra and choir also settled into their seats. Both were larger than usual to do justice to Handel’s passionate oratorio.
From the opening notes of the instrumental ‘Sinfony’ to the end of the work (which promises redemption, followed by a prediction of the Day of Judgment and the general resurrection, ending with the final victory over sin, death and the acclamation of Christ), it was a truly marvellous performance.
When the choir rose to their feet for the first chorus, And The Glory Of the Lord, it brought a lump to the throat and tears to the eyes. The sound was glorious and they were magnificent. We were all spellbound.
It was said that when Handel composed the triumph of God’s Kingdom described by the Hallelujah Chorus, he saw heaven before him. No wonder the King rose to his feet when he heard it – if it was anything like the triumphant sound we were hearing, I am not surprised. Needless to say we were also on our feet.
One thing was very clear and that was Iain and everyone concerned had worked very hard to give this truly memorable performance. It was as if we were hearing it for the first time.
The soloists were in fine form, but I must mention the tenor, Oliver Johnston, and bass, Richard Walshe, who both gave sensitive and passionate performances. We hung on their every note. Both the soprano, Tereza Gevorgyan, and mezzosoprano, Claire Barnett-Jones, also sang with sensitivity and passion. All names to look out for in the future.
As for the glorious orchestra, special mention goes to Ann- Isabel Meyer, cello continuo, Frederick Brown, organ continuo, and Iain Ledingham, who accompanied the recitatives on the newly restored harpsichord, and the trumpet soloist, Anthony Cross, who sent a chill down the spine during The Trumpet Shall Sound.
I grew up attending many performances of the Messiah and went to this one hoping I would not be disappointed – and I was not. I could have been at any of the more prestigious venues. And to my mind this is down to one man – Iain Ledingham – for his dedication to the work, his musicianship and charismatic leadership. Well done to them all. It was a wonderful evening which was completely sold out, so make sure you get tickets for the next concert, on April 25, to hear Bach’s St John Passion in The Barbirolli Hall, at St Clement Danes School, Chorleywood.
12A Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Howard, Donna Mitchell
AMODERN- DAY Scrooge is moved by the plight of a young boy in Theodore Melfi’s touching and frequently uproarious comedy. There are neither jingling bells nor ghostly visitations – the only spirits are swigged from a bottle – but Dickens’ underlying theme of the redemption of the human spirit rings true in this Valentine to Bill Murray.
The Oscar- nominated star of Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Lost In Translation is in riotous form in Melfi’s delightful film, deploying split-second comic timing to devastating effect as he reveals a beating heart of gold beneath the shambolic appearance of his penny-pinching curmudgeon.
The irascible old coot might gamble, smoke and drink to excess, and seek physical pleasure in the company of a heavily pregnant Russian prostitute, but we fall head over heels for Murray’s virtuoso portrayal and it’s a love affair that endures the film’s occasional lull or sloppy characterisation.
Newcomer Jaeden Lieberher is magnificent as the spirited tyke, whose innocence and unwavering faith provide a beacon of hope for the self-destructive codger to stumble back into the land of the living.
Writer-director Melfi wrings us dry of laughter and tears in the process.
Vincent (Murray) lives in a ramshackle house in Brooklyn with a pet cat and dreams of the past.
He owes a small fortune to bookie Zucko (Terrence Howard), who is reluctantly threatening to smash Vincent’s kneecaps unless fortunes change.
Lady Luck smiles on the sexagenarian loner when struggling single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Lieberher) move in next door, and Vincent exploits Maggie to become the lad’s babysitter.
“He’s sort of cool, in a grouchy sort of way,” Oliver assures his mother about his new guardian.
While Maggie works long hours to keep a roof over their head, Vincent introduces Oliver to horse racing, his feisty Russian companion-for-money Daka (Naomi Watts) and an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease called Sandy (Donna Mitchell), who he visits at an expensive nursing home.
When Vincent’s schoolteacher Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd) asks his impressionable charges to deliver a verbal report on someone they consider a 21st-century saint, Oliver knows exactly who he wants to canonise.
St Vincent is anchored by Murray’s award-worthy performance, but the supporting cast is equally impressive, often in underwritten roles.
McCarthy abandons her usual schtick to embody a mother in crisis and Watts plies a thick cod-eastern European accent as the working girl looking for a break.
O’Dowd scene-steals with aplomb as a holy man with heavenly quips, such as: “I’m a Catholic, which is the best religion because we have the most rules.”
Aided by a leading man in rude health, writer-director Melfi does not slather on the sentimentality too thickly as he exposes glimmers of hope for each dysfunctional character and encourages them to walk towards the light comedy.