Uwe Grodd has conducted Auckland Choral's annual Messiah since 2008 and his enthusiastic welcoming from the podium is as much part of the occasion as the music itself.
For this man, Handel's oratorio is a living, malleable organism. Tonight, he alerts us to a few "nips and tucks" in the score, as well as a bonus alternative aria.
Grodd is an enthused and simpatico guide as his choristers undertake their familiar journey. Their resounding "Wonderful counsellor" in Unto us a son is born, is a shout of joy, as much for the music making as the subject.
There is finesse in the playing of Pipers Sinfonia led by Miranda Hutton. Philip Smith bolsters Handelian pomp and splendour from the town hall organ, but when smaller forces come through, one takes much pleasure from James Bush's engaging cello, and the crisp keyboard contributions of Peter Watts and John Wells.
Amongst the soloists, Elizabeth Mandeno displays the form that won her the Lockwood Aria Competition last month. The soprano exhorts the daughter of Zion to rejoice in an exultant whirl of 6/8, impresses with sensitively sculpted ornamentation and looks over her printed score to catch both our eyes and ears.
Leaning more to soprano than alto, Tessa Romano's mezzo needs more projection in its lower register and the curious decision to omit the customary repeat in He was despised, means that we only experience the singer's own elaborate reworking of Handel's melody.
Manase Latu leads us into the story with spine-tingling anticipation, using his lyrical gifts to make the few bars of Behold and see one of the evening's highlights.
Jarvis Dams sings with his customary intelligence, pairing up with Huw Dann for an imposing trumpet aria, However, too great a reliance on the printed score dampens the operatic fire and fury of Why do the nations rage so furiously, an aria of almost frightening relevance in our own times.
What: Auckland Choral
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart