Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Dramatic Messiah

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, 7 December
Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke

The NZSO’s annual Messiah performance is now a tradition. But a good tradition isn’t simply the repetition of something over and over; all traditions adapt and flex to fit changing conditions.

The NZSO recognises this – and, more prosaically, has to keep people coming back year after year. So every year it has to put on a different Messiah, a task made easier by the fact that, as the programme note points out, it’s a piece especially open to a wide range of interpretations.

This year’s conductor, Graham Abbott, who headed up the equivalent performances in 2012 and 2016, made clear his intention to give us a dramatic Messiah. It is, after all, a striking story (even if not directly acted as such onstage), a fact sometimes lost in performances that feel like a series of set pieces.

In this intention Abbott, the soloists, the choir and the orchestra itself were immensely successful. There was a clear sense of narrative, especially from the soloists: their singing was consistently expressive, varied, and carefully suited to the lyrics. From the orchestra came a broad range of moods, as the brisk, bright and sun-filled overture passed through various shadings into the slow, murmuring, foreboding passages like ‘The people that walked in darkness’.

Among the soloists, tenor Andrew Goodwin stood out thanks to the caressing beauty of his voice and his generous, expansive interpretations of arias such as ‘Comfort ye’. Both he and baritone Hadleigh Adams struggled occasionally with the scale passages, but were otherwise a delight. The latter’s voice in arias such as ‘For behold, darkness’ was rich and velvety, beautifully matched to the similar sonorities in the strings.

One of the unquestionable highlights was his rendition of ‘The trumpet shall sound’, in which he gave himself full room for a stirring, impassioned interpretation that combined an almost gospel -like flair with classical rigour. (And we shall be changed, indeed.) Soprano Celeste Lazarenko, meanwhile, was very good in arias like ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’, if not completely convincing throughout. The alto, Anna Pierard, sometimes struggled to be heard above the orchestra, but sang with great beauty and delicacy.

In terms of the performance as a whole, I was initially sceptical about the imbalance between the small-scale orchestra and the very large number of singers, but on the whole their relative levels were well matched. And for such a large choir, Orpheus were formidably well-drilled. The big set pieces, such as ‘For unto us a child is born’, were crisp and convincing, while ‘All we, like sheep’ crackled with energy, and the famous ‘Hallelujah’ chorus was exhilarating, especially in the top soprano lines.

It wasn’t a flawless performance, however. It felt, at moments, just fractionally under-rehearsed or not quite on point. At the start of ‘And he shall purify’, for instance, the orchestra appeared to be out of sync with the chorus; Pierard was noticeably slow finding her place for ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive’; and the soloists weren’t always stylistically consistent. But it was still a superb evening of music, a reminder of the Messiah’s enduring power, and a sign that the NZSO knows how to keep a tradition alive.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Gordon Campbell: On The Use Of Existing Drugs To Reduce The Effects Of Coronavirus

So now, we’re all getting up to speed with the travel bans, the rigorous handwashing and drying, the social distancing, and the avoidance of public transport wherever possible. Right. At a wider level…so far, the public health system has ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Oil Market And Regulation Crusades

Safe to say, Vladimir Putin did not expect the response he has received amidships from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Earlier, Russia chose to walk away from the OPEC talks in Vienna that were aimed at reaching an agreement on how to reduce world oil production (and protect oil prices) in the light of the fall in demand being caused by the coronavirus. No doubt, Russia and its allies in the US shale industry probably glimpsed an opportunity to undercut OPEC and seize some of its customers. Bad move. In reply, Saudi Arabia has smashed the oil market by hugely ramping up production, signing up customers and drastically cutting the oil price in a fashion designed to knock Russia and other oil suppliers right out of contention. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On 22 Short Takes About Super Tuesday

With obvious apologies to the Simpsons….Here’s my 22 short takes on the 14 Super Tuesday primaries that combined yesterday to produce a common narrative –Bernie Sanders NOT running away with the nomination, Joe Biden coming back from the dead, and the really, really rich guy proving to be really, really bad at politics. In the months ahead, it will be fascinating to see if the real Joe Biden can live up to the idea of Joe Biden that people voted for yesterday – namely, the wise old guy who can save the country from the political extremism of the right and the left... More>>

Gordon Campbell On Shane Jones: A Liability No-One Needs To Bear

New Zealand First has needed a diversion after weeks of bad coverage over its dodgy handling of donations, but it really, really doesn’t need what Shane Jones has chosen to provide. According to Jones, New Zealand has ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Strong Man Legacies: Burying Mubarak

Reviled strongmen of one era are often the celebrated ones of others. Citizens otherwise tormented find that replacements are poor, in some cases even crueller, than the original artefact. Such strongmen also serve as ideal alibis for rehabilitation ... More>>

Caitlin Johnstone: Humanity Is Making A Very Important Choice When It Comes To Assange

The propagandists have all gone dead silent on the WikiLeaks founder they previously were smearing with relentless viciousness, because they no longer have an argument. The facts are all in, and yes, it turns out the US government is certainly and undeniably working to exploit legal loopholes to imprison a journalist for exposing its war crimes. That is happening, and there is no justifying it... More>>

Gail Duncan: Reframing Welfare Report

Michael Joseph Savage, the architect of the 1938 Social Security Act, wouldn’t recognise today’s Social Security Act as having anything to do with the kind, cooperative, caring society he envisioned 80 years ago. Instead society in 2020 has been reduced ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Addiction To Chinese Student Fees

Last week, Australian PM Scott Morrison extended its ban on foreign visitors from or passing through from mainland China – including Chinese students - for a third week. New Zealand has dutifully followed suit, with our travel ban ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Coronavirus, And The Iowa Debacle

As Bloomberg says, the coronavirus shutdown is creating the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment. On the upside, the mortality rate with the current outbreak is lower than with SARS in 2003, but (for a number of reasons) the economic impact this time ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Dodging A Bullet Over The Transport Cost Over-Runs

As New Zealand gears up to begin its $6.8 billion programme of large scale roading projects all around the country, we should be aware of this morning’s sobering headlines from New South Wales, where the cost overruns on major transport projects ... More>>


  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog