This time of the year, Handel's Messiah is ubiquitous in concert halls. Although it was originally meant to be played during Easter, it soon became a Christmas classic, quite naturally, since the subject of Part 1 is the birth of Christ. Much more than just the well-known "Hallelujah" Chorus, this colossal work demands very tight teamwork between the participants, in this case the orchestra Musica Vitae, the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir and the soloists.

Fredrk Malmberg © Jan-Olav Wedin
Fredrk Malmberg
© Jan-Olav Wedin

This teamwork was precisely coordinated by the conductor Fredrik Malmberg who, with his very emphatic, almost choreographic, style kept the musicians tightly coordinated. He is currently the Principal Conductor of the Eric Ericson Choir and Professor in choir conducting at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and these choral influences were very evident in his conducting. Due to the size of the orchestra, and the very central role of the choir in the Messiah, I found this approach well suited.

The soloists were all excellent. First to break the silence after the orchestral overture was tenor Anders Dahlin with "Comfort ye my people". His voice was amazingly light, albeit extremely filling. What struck me most was the way it echoed across the concert hall as if it were it a cathedral, something I had rarely experienced outside a church. His laid-back attitude and at the same time very theatrical performance was very refreshing.

The bass Jakob Högström made his appearance soon after with the deepest of voices. A minor drawback was his swiftness, which provoked an imbalance with the orchestra that the conductor immediately managed to fix. However, this was to be repeated in later solos, and it seemed as though he was running out of breath in the various ornaments. However, the aria "The trumpet shall sound" compensated and was truly magnificent.

Alto Marianne Beate Kielland's mellow and rich voice was a true highlight of the evening. In her first aria "But who may abide the day of His coming", the dynamics of the orchestra were regrettably exaggerated as it wandered back and forth between piano and forte. However, this exaggeration helped avoid the covering of her voice that would later be the case: in most following solos she was unfortunately overshadowed.

Karin Dahlberg and Marianne Beate Kielland © Jan-Olav Wedin
Karin Dahlberg and Marianne Beate Kielland
© Jan-Olav Wedin

Soprano Karin Dahlberg's voice was much agreeable, neither weak nor thick, and her use of virtuosic trills was very moderate. In contrast to Kielland, her voice wasn't easily eclipsed by the orchestra. This was most evident in the duet "He shall feed his flock", in which both female voices participated.

Musica Vitae specialises in Baroque repertoire and played on period instruments. It did so very well, besides the above mentioned question of dynamics. I got the feeling that it got more and more comfortable as the evening passed and by the last pieces it was very well oiled and at ease. The same was true for "The trumpets shall sound" where what started as a timid sound, mainly concealed by the other instruments, ended triumphant.

To tie all this up was the Eric Ericsson Chamber Choir, a chief performer in the Swedish musical scene. For me, it gave the most enjoyable of performances, the highlight of which was the very last piece of the Messiah: together with the orchestra and the soloist sounded an all-encompassing "Amen".

Overall a major performance of the classic work, at which all participants made a wonderful job in living up to Handel's cherished Messiah.

***11