Most Messiahs tend to be performed at either Easter (for which it was written) or Christmas, but here we have a mid-term performance as Sweden emerges from the worldwide drought of live performances. It was part of the Baltic Sea Festival, “a festival for musical experiences and inspirational talks where emotions and the power of thought meet”. This means a lot of chat before, during and after events. The Messiah performance as streamed and as filmed for subsequent playback entails a long support discussion about another oratorio called The song of the sea, with a discussion about Messiah itself before it began and twenty minutes of chat – not entirely relevant to the Handel fan – between Parts 1 and 2, and Parts 2 and 3. It made for a long watch but at least fast forwarding was possible on replay. Additionally, watching the opening night streaming live was – as often the case for me – somewhat unsatisfactory with too many sustained video freezes and occasional fuzzies, but the replay (which will be available until December) was perfectly fine.  And perfectly fine is how I would characterise the performance.

Reinhard Goebel conducts
© Arne Hyckenberg

With about 33 musicians of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and some 24 members of the Swedish Radio Choir, all appearing to be socially distanced, this was a good Handelian size, although modern instruments were in use, apart from the harpsichord. Baroque specialist Reinhard Goebel, founder and leader for many years of Musica Antiqua Köln, conducted, and elicited appropriately Baroquish sounds with not too much vibrato from the strings. The Choir was exemplary in its coordination and articulation.

This was a version generally reflecting the usual c.1745 model, with no noticeable cuts and the usual vocal attributions. The tenor carried the section from “All they that see him” through to “But thou didst not leave”, and “If God be for us” was awarded to the soprano. At the beginning, tempi seemed a little ponderous by modern standards, but certainly lightened up by the time we got to “His yoke is easy”. Very nice violin work was heard from concertmaster Julia Kretz Larsson, especially in the final “Amen”.

Kristina Hammarström, Camilla Tilling and the Swedish RSO
© Arne Hyckenberg

The soloists, all well known performers, were consistently good vocally with nice English diction from the Swedish women as well as the English men. Soprano Camilla Tilling has a bright clear soprano voice, to which mezzo-soprano Kristina Hammarström makes a rich velvety contrast. Tenor Andrew Staples exuded sincerity as well as good plangent tone, and bass Matthew Rose provided resonant deep notes. All showed good flexibility. At no time were we vouchsafed a glimpse of the audience. I’m not sure whether there was some chair shuffling before the “Hallelujah” chorus. At any rate they were very audibly and enthusiastically there after each part and especially at the end.

This performance was reviewed from the Berwaldhallen live video stream