If it’s almost Christmas then it must be time for Huddersfield Choral Society’s performances of Handel’s best-known work, the Messiah.
The festive tradition began 180 years ago, at the time of the society’s founding, and since 1955 has become an annual, much-anticipated, event at Huddersfield Town Hall, with audiences travelling from far and wide to experience the choral masterpiece.
This year, the society is giving a subscriber’s concert on Tuesday, December 20, followed by a public performance the following day, Wednesday, December 21.
For long-serving members of the choir it’s a chance to indulge in a well-loved oratorio that still has the power to send shivers down their spines.
As HCS president Margaret Atkinson says: “It’s a piece where you can take the words into yourself and when you sing it you really get into it. It’s inspirational and moving. No matter how many times we do it I still get a cold shiver when we start the Amen. It has a really emotional finish. Other singers say the same thing.”
Margaret, who has been a chorister with the society for 45 years, estimates she’s sung the Messiah well over 100 times, but says she never tires of the majestic oratorio, which includes the famous Hallelujah Chorus.
For many years the society gave two performances of the Messiah in Huddersfield and one in London. “But Huddersfield is always the best,” explains Margaret, “because it’s got such good acoustics. We’ve performed in the Albert Hall and the Festival Hall, but Huddersfield always has the best sound. It’s a real treat for the audience.”
Among HCS’s many claims to fame is the fact that it was an early pioneer of recording, making its first vinyl pressing in 1927. In 1946 the choir recorded the Messiah with one of the nation’s most famous conductors of the day, Sir Malcolm Sargent. It’s online shop still boasts a number of more recent recordings, now in CD format, including a 2010 Messiah.
However, every Messiah is subtly different, says Margaret, and it all depends on the conductor. For 2016 this will be London-based Martyn Brabbins, who is currently musical director of the English National Opera as well as HCS. Martyn has had a long association with the society and is known for his work with leading orchestras and choral groups around the world.
He is a champion of British music and composers.
As well as the chance to hear the famous choral society, the audience will also be treated to performances by world-class soloists – soprano Susanna Hurrell; Claudia Huckle, contralto; David Webb, tenor; and baritone David Kempster.
Accompanying the singers is the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the UK’s only full-time chamber orchestra.
There are just a few seats left for the Messiah. Visit tickets.kirklees.gov.uk for details. And if you’re disappointed, then remember to book early next year.
The now famous English oratorio by George Frideric Handel was premiered in Dublin in April 1742, and was never intended as a work for the Christmas season, despite it’s title.
According to his own records it took Handel just over three weeks to compose.
Telling the story of Christ, using scriptural text from the King James bible, the libretto was by Charles Jennens, a Shakespearean scholar.
During Handel’s lifetime the Messiah became a popular work and today it is one of the most frequently-performed and best-known choral works in the Western world.
It is so well-known that some choral groups stage ‘singalong’ Messiahs, at which members of the audience bring along their own scores.
The final performance of the work with Handel was present was at Covent Garden on April 6, 1759, eight days before his death.