Most known for small scale, intimate performances of Handel's Messiah, Harry Christophers led his Choir and Orchestra of the Sixteen - with a few hundred others - at the Festival Hall last night as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations for the Festival of Britain.

Choir-MassiveMessiah, Sheila Burnett
Choir-MassiveMessiah, Sheila Burnett

The word "wonderful" comes to mind - it was the first word which the massed choir joined to sing to dramatic effect and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Excellent soloists, the Choir and Orchestra of the Sixteen with period instruments playing Handel's original scoring - without any of the frills and extra instrumentation associated with massed choral performances. It proved the point again that good choirs do not need big orchestras to create a musical effect.

The music was glorious in its simplicity. The massed choirs created drama - especially in key moments, on single words and phrases. The audience was invited not just to stand during the Hallelujah Chorus but also to sing.

Inclusion and wrap around sound - including judicious use and placement of his trumpets at the side of the auditorium just behind the stalls - added to the musical delights and surprises without distracting from the quality of the presentation and performance.

The choirs were brought together by the South Bank Centre's "Voicelab" project run by Mary King, herself a singer, actor and voice coach. Her hope was to use the massive choir of 450 voices from all round the country to be "a real multitude. I hope it will be spine-tingling." It was. It was a also great fun to be there.

A truly memorable Messiah.

*****