On the last Tuesday evening of the Lent Half, the Taplow Youth Choir, students from Wycombe Abbey, Etonians from both Chapel Choirs, Eton staff and the Brandenburg Baroque Soloists came together for a mighty performance of Handel’s Messiah. Masterminded and conducted by Head of Academic Music Matthew O’Donovan, the chorus lifted the roof of College Chapel after just eight rehearsals.

After two years of no ECMS chorus, Mr O’Donovan, who is an expert on baroque music, was eager to perform Handel’s Messiah. It is, as he told me, “an absolute favourite. It is demanding for the chorus but also extremely rewarding – the choruses are iconic, memorable, and terrific fun to sing”. His passion was clear from the first rehearsal and his energy in the performance was contagious.

It is demanding for the chorus but also extremely rewarding – the choruses are iconic, memorable, and terrific fun to sing.

Matthew O’Donovan, Head of Academic Music

Handel was born in 1685 in Halle. He moved to Hamburg after brief study in Halle, was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover in 1710 but settled in London in 1712. Before Messiah, Handel had written a number of oratorios, but it still stood out as something of a departure when he compiled it in 1739 entirely. It is made up of 53 movements in three parts, including choruses, solo arias and recitatives accompanied by a baroque orchestra.

The orchestral introduction, ‘Sinfony’, set the scene with the powerful ‘Grave’ section before the skilful and light ‘Allegro moderato’, and the chorus were finally unveiled in the fourth movement ‘And the glory of the Lord’. Highlights included the ironically named ‘His yoke is easy’ which is one of the trickiest choruses, sung on the night with precision and character. The famous ‘Hallelujah’ chorus was joyful and  jubilant and at the finale ‘Worthy is the lamb’ into the ‘amen’ rounded off the evening spectacularly!

In between the choruses, professional soloists and Eton VMTs Tim Travers-Brown and Edmund Sadington, Benjamin Durrant and the extraordinary Miriam Allan sang dramatic recitatives and expressive arias. One particular highlight was when Mr Saddington went up into the pulpit to sing ‘Behold I tell you a mystery’ leading into ‘The trumpet shall sound’, which was played triumphantly by trumpet specialist, Russell Gilmour.

Thank you very much to all who took part and came to watch, hopefully we’ll see you next year for the next ECMS Chorus Concert.