Tuesday, 24 December 2013


Celebration Chorus, Messiah Singers
Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall  
Sunday (22 December 2013)                                           

This review was published in The Straits Times on 24 December 2013 with title "Sing-along success of Yuletide season".

The performance of Handel’s oratorio Messiah has been synonymous with the Yuletide season such that the Christian celebration seems incomplete without it. It had been a staple of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and its choruses, but the ritual was taken up this year by the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, Celebration Chorus and Messiah Singers led by charismatic young conductor Adrian Tan (below).

Another difference was the element of mass audience participation in the spirit of those sing-along Messiahs so popular in England and USA. But are reticent Singaporean audiences ready for such an undertaking?

It helped that hopefuls were primed weeks before with rehearsals led by Greg Petersen and Tom Anderson, with the help of downloadable scores. On the day, audience members in the stalls were armed with choral albums, tablets and iPads to do their part. Conductor Tan cajoled with good humoured needling and the stage was set.

A complete Messiah would have taken two and a half hours, so selections of arias and choruses from all three parts made up a quite digestible 90 minutes for the capacity house. In the less familiar and more difficult fugal choruses like And He Shall Purify, the audience was predictably quiet, but it warmed up considerably for the popular For Unto Us A Child Is Born.

The large chorus on stage projected strength in numbers even if it does not match the finesse of the much smaller Singapore Symphony Chorus which has made a habit of performing from memory. The orchestral accompaniment was more than acceptable even when perfection in cues and execution could be found wanting at times.

The soloists was an A-list of Singaporean (no foreign talents here) singers led by soprano Yee Ee-Ping whose aria Rejoice was an imperious show of coloratura prowess. Mezzo-soprano Rebecca Chellappah projected gravitas in He Was Despised while baritone William Lim was rock-like and unshakeable in the dramatic Why Do The Nations. Tenor Reuben Lai had a pleasant ring to his voice but struggled to hit the highest notes in Comfort Ye and Ev’ry Valley.

The perennial question as to whether one should stand for the Hallelujah Chorus was unequivocally decided by the conductor. Like King George II who did so more than 270 years ago, there were to be no sitters and the effect was quite stunning. Not only did the audience erupt in full voice, the visual spectacle of seeing Esplanaders on their feet was one not easily forgotten.

The ploy was a canny one, as after the final choruses Worthy Is The Lamb and Amen were concluded, there was a spontaneous standing ovation. Whether this was self-congratulatory or not is debatable, but there looks like more D-I-Y Messiahs to come in the near future. 

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