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Festive glory with Handel's Messiah

PUBLISHED: 08:37 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 October 2010

Simon Parkin

Christmas music doesn't come much more glorious then Handel's Messiah. No wonder the Britten Sinfonia's annual performances are so popular. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Christmas music doesn't come much more glorious then Handel's Messiah. No wonder the Britten Sinfonia's annual performances are so popular. SIMON PARKIN reports.

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Handel's remarkable oratorio Messiah, with its vivid portrayal of biblical scenes and high emotional charge, is a staple in many people's Christmas musical diet. And rightly so - alongside brilliant solo arias, its magnificent choruses fired a whole nation's passion for choral-singing.

For over a decade the Britten Sinfonia's highly-acclaimed vocal group Polyphony, conducted by Stephen Layton, annual London performances of the Messiah have sold out, so it is a particular delight to welcome them to Norwich for performance that is sure to be hugely popular.

The Polyphony provides the thrilling choral sound to set off a quartet of superb young soloists. This Theatre Royal performance, on Sunday, will be followed by one at Ely Cathedral, before the internationally-renowned soloists will be recording the piece live at St John's Smith Square in London for release next year.

“We're often invited to perform Messiah and generally turn these offers down as it's important for us to present this work with the right quality of choir and conductor, and in the right style suited to a modern orchestra,” says Britten Sinfonia chief executive, David Butcher.

“With Polyphony and Stephen Layton, it doesn't get much better and there's such a wonderful track record of performances and recordings between our two groups, as our regular Britten Sinfonia attenders will testify.

“That said, our decision to perform - and record - Messiah has not been taken lightly. The performance you will hear is the result of extensive preparation and rehearsal.

“Messiah is usually the preserve of period instruments and the orchestra has worked closely with Baroque specialists to incorporate period performance techniques into this project and discover it anew with modern instruments. There have also been extensive sectional rehearsals prior to the full rehearsals with choir, soloists and orchestra. Stephen Layton has produced his own performing edition of the work, after meticulous research.”

The Norwich performance will include soprano Roberta Invernizzi, countertenor Iestyn Davies and bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams. Before the performance, at 6.30pm, there will be a pre-concert talk with performers. Though free, places for this must be booked in advance.

t Britten Sinfonia Handel's Messiah is at Theatre Royal on Sunday, £6-£35, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk.

t More information: www.brittensinfonia.com

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