The glory of mar­vel­lous mu­sic

Han­del’s Mes­siah South Bucks Choral So­ci­ety and Amer­sham Fes­ti­val Cham­ber Orches­tra

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - ONSTAGE - JOHN­SON

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.

KAY

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.

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