On Saturday night the well-blended, mature voices of Portsmouth Festival Choir and an orchestra of first-rate locals gave a spirited performance of Handel’s Messiah at Portsmouth Cathedral.
Andrew Cleary set excellent tempi and the silken-toned choir showed they were easily agile enough for the difficult choruses. In the first performances of Messiah in Portsmouth drums were imported from London, but the off-pitch ones heard in the “Halleluja chorus” on Saturday should probably be exported as the performance was otherwise excellent. The soloists were all visitors, save for Nick Pepin (alto), who sings for Portsmouth Cathedral when he’s not moonlighting in Chichester. Katherine Hawnt (soprano) was crystal clear and Edward Goater (tenor), who will sing again in Rossini at Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal this Saturday evening, gave a powerful account of “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron”. Pepin was impressive in “He was despised”, especially in his “shame and spitting”. However, the star was undoubtedly Jimmy Holiday (bass), whose sonorously powerful voice made for some impressive “shaking” in his first aria. Given his extraordinary performance it was a shame not to hear the whole of “The trumpet shall sound” in an otherwise uncut Messiah splendidly performed.