Classical review: SCO/Richard Egarr - Edinburgh

At the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
At the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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HAVING lived in the Netherlands for more than two decades, conductor Richard Egarr explained in the concert programme, he’d never been subjected to the “endless trying repetitions” of Handel’s Messiah we in the UK get at Yuletide.

SCO/Richard Egarr: Handel’s Messiah

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

*****

And in his fresh, bracing account of the hoary seasonal chestnut with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, it really showed. It was as if he was discovering the work anew in each of its vividly dispatched movements, and taking touchingly sincere joy in bringing them alive for listeners.

He pranced athletically between harpsichord and conducting, sometimes even nestling in among the orchestra to direct individual players, but he was astonishingly clear and precise in his demands, and the SCO responded with beautifully nuanced, supple playing – rhythms danced rather than feeling driven, and textures were sparklingly transparent.

Egarr was keen to point to Handel’s success as an opera composer, too – under his direction, the oratorio’s arias felt gripping and dramatic rather than (as is too often the case) merely reverential and polite. Silvery-toned soprano Elizabeth Watts’s “I know that my Redeemer liveth” throbbed with conflicting emotions – anger, joy, hope and despair – while baritone Ashley Riches filled the hall with an urgent, turbulent “Why do the nations”.

Despite her gloriously burnished voice, contralto Claudia Huckle sometimes struggled to make herself heard against Egarr’s bright orchestra, but tenor James Gilchrist was quietly commanding in Part 2. The SCO Chorus was on remarkably fine form, too, especially in a surprisingly understated “Hallelujah” Chorus, which Egarr sculpted with expert precision.

It was an exceptional, sometimes provocative performance full of fresh insights.

Seen on 27.11.14

• Aberdeen Music Hall, tonight