Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Thankfully, what made the rich, lithe account from John Butt’s Dunedin Consort so distinctive was its sheer spontaneity and freshness, and its glorious sense of drama across Handel’s succession of recitatives, arias and choruses.
It was clear that Butt was thinking on a big scale, almost running numbers together as they obliquely conveyed a particular scene, but without turning the whole thing into an unstaged opera. There was a growing sense of excitement, for instance, in the run-up to Christ’s birth, and tenor Nicholas Mulroy’s Evangelist-style recounting of the crucifixion was very moving in its raw emotion.
All four of Butt’s soloists emerged smoothly from his 12-strong chorus to deliver their numbers. They were uniformly strong, and meant every word they sang: bass Matthew Brook let rip with frightening intensity, Mairi Lawson glowed with a sense of quiet assurance and alto James Laing sang with unforced elegance – and impeccable diction – throughout. Butt’s Dunedin instrumentalists were on supple, dramatic form under his demanding direction. But most impressively, by its closing evocations of the Day of Judgement, his expansive vision of Messiah stressed the piece’s universality, not just its seasonal associations – a revelation.