Auckland Choral's Messiah is a highlight of the city's musical calendar. Two performances of the oratorio invariably bring in sizeable audiences, with many experiencing their only concert hall outing of the year.
Uwe Grodd's congenial welcome always places the performance in a topical context. In 2018 the conductor made a brief Brexit quip; tonight was described as a much-appreciated level 1 Messiah (he had been concerned that it might have been cancelled as happened during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic).
But traditions must go on, he stressed: "Auckland Choral was founded in 1856, before the BNZ and, while banks are closing branches, we're still singing."
And sing they did, magnificently in a buoyant "And the glory", bolstered, like many of Handel's grander choruses, by Philip Smith's town hall organ.
Grodd's incisive baton unleashed an almost frightening power in "Surely he hath borne our griefs" while Handel's monumental final chorus, sung without scores and with the sterling support of Pipers Sinfonia, was a stirring showcase of high baroque splendour.
The conductor had suggested earlier on that we feel free to bring cameras out during the Hallelujah Chorus and share our joy on social media. It was an invitation taken up with some enthusiasm, off and on stage, soprano soloist Joanna Foote, smartphone in hand, streaming the performance as she waved to us.
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Alas, there have been better years for soloists. From his opening "Comfort ye", Jared Holt's tenor revealed a diffuse vocal bloom that persisted throughout the evening.
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Bass Wade Kernot, audibly uncomfortable in the lower register and flustered by the fiery passagework of "Why do the nations," made his strongest impression in duet with Rainer Saville for "The trumpet shall sound".
Foote's lyrical soprano was at its best in "I know that my Redeemer liveth", while the operatic heft of mezzo Kristin Darragh made for some compulsive coloratura and an effectively underplayed "He was despised".
What: Auckland Choral
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart