Auckland Choral's annual homage to Handel was a Messiah with a difference.
Before a note was delivered, conductor Uwe Grodd announced, with justifiable pride, that we would be hearing the complete work as its composer intended, with none of the irritating nips and tucks of previous presentations.
A well-primed Overture from Pipers Sinfonia augured well and tenor Christopher Bowen set up a benchmark for his fellow soloists with a beautifully turned recitative and aria. His final, extraordinary flourish of notes would have created a stir among the original 1743 Covent Garden audience.
In tandem with mezzo Anna Pierard in O Death, where is thy sting, the two singers brought an almost Purcellian zest to the writing.
Pierard was in superb form, particularly in He was despised. Later in the aria, she would let forth with the required operatic fire but, in a more reflective mode, against the liquid tones of James Tibbles' chamber organ, the emotional intensity was compelling.
Pierard's unfailingly sensitive ornamentation was a total delight.
Back in Europe, Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli is a Baroque specialist, and vocally, her contributions were marked by an almost bell-like clarity. Handel's coloratura held no fears for the Italian soprano, yet she invested I know that my redeemer liveth with a touching poignancy.
Shane Lowrencev is a baritone with considerable stage presence and a vocal range that extends downwards to satisfy Handel's demands. The Australian may have brought the furiously raging nations to life, but in his great trumpet aria, against a brilliant Huw Dann, he was sometimes vocally overwhelmed by the music around him.
The overall success of this Messiah, one of the best of the last decade, was very much due to Uwe Grodd, marshalling his forces with scholarship and showmanship that would have appealed to Handel.
Chorally, there were occasional lapses of energy, but a buoyant And the Glory provided a positive launching and, later on, the singers not only brought a remarkable passion to Surely, he hath bourne our griefs, but sang their hearts out in one of Handel's most spectacular Finales.
What: Auckland Choral
Where: Auckland Town Hall