Review: Messiah, Otley and Ilkley Choral Societies, All Saints Parish Church, Otley, Saturday 16th December 2023

THE historic Church was packed for this very special performance of Messiah, given in celebration of the 80th Birthday of Otley Choral Society. What better way of marking such a significant milestone than by 125 lusty Yorkshire voices singing George Frideric Handel’s beloved oratorio at Christmas time? Otley Choral Society were joined, as always, by their Ilkley sister choir. For many years now, the twin choirs have combined under the same musical director for their performances in both towns.

Alex Rebetge, last Saturday’s young guest conductor is a dynamic presence on the podium. Alex shaped and moulded this performance to elicit the sound that he wanted. You could see him mouthing the words as he cajoled and coaxed each section. The choral line was incisive and the diction clear. The unanimity of attack on such choruses as For Unto Us, His Yoke Is Easy, We Like Sheep and Surely He Hath Born Our Grief was impressive. Tempos were flexible and on the whole brisk. The Hallelujah! Chorus, plus solo trumpet and timpani undoubtedly hit the spot as indeed it must. Alex is Director of Music and Organist at the handsome early 18th century Church of St Ann in Manchester city centre.

A fine quartet of young soloists sang, courtesy of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. Soprano Georgie Malcolm was beautifully poised, radiant and clear in her recitatives and arias: And the angel said unto them, Rejoice Greatly O daughter of Zion and I know that my redeemer liveth. Alto Jessica Eccleston showed deep feeling as she projected sorrow and rejection in He was despised. The tenor Philip O’Connor sounded clear and confident in Comfort ye my people and Every valley shall be exalted. Baritone Samuel Snowden oozed gravitas in The people that walked in darkness and The trumpet shall sound.

Robin Cook played the harpsichord continuo and Sally Robinson led the Yorkshire Chamber Ensemble. Alex Rebetge ratcheted up the great Amen Chorus to an exultant climax. The audience responded vociferously and rose to its feet in a standing ovation. Quite an 80th Birthday bash!