‘MESSIAH UNLEASHED’ - HANDEL COMES TO HADLEY WOOD
Without doubt ‘Messiah’ can be enjoyed purely for the transcendental beauty of its music. But to do so is to reduce Handel’s masterpiece to something far less than it was meant to be. The librettist, Charles Jennens, compiled the text from the King James Bible and from versions of the Psalms included within the Book of Common Prayer. And it was not simply cultural or financial reasons that inspired Handel to set such text to music. He burned with a desire to put the many sublime passages in the Bible which had contributed to his Christian faith to music. Indeed, such was Handel’s passion to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ that he closed his manuscript with the letters “SDG’- “Soli Deo Gloria” meaning “To God alone be the Glory.”
The humility of Handel can easily be overlooked. To the sponsors of the first performance of ‘Messiah’ he stipulated that the profits from this and all future performances should “be donated to prisoners, orphans and the sick.” The reasons were deeply personal, as he went on to explain - “I have myself been a very sick man, and am now cured. I was a prisoner and have been set free.” Handel confessed that he had been spiritually sick and blind until the Christian Gospel had taken hold of him.
Following the first London performance of ‘Messiah’ a patron congratulated Handel on having entertained his audience so excellently to which Handel was quick to reply, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them.” What he intended for his audience was that they should be transformed by the Bible texts that underpinned the music.
It was in that spirit that ‘Messiah Unleashed’ was conceived - to unleash the power of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ by explaining the key texts after each excerpt of music, and during the music reflecting on famous paintings of Christ’s passion, resurrection and triumph.
Both events were very well attended, and many people reported on how moving they found the combination of words, music and art.
The talented choir of St Mary’s Monkey Hadley, under the expert direction of Stephen Tatlow, sung beautifully, building up to a crescendo for their spirited rendition of the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus and a sensitive performance of ‘Worthy is the Lamb.’ The audiences on both Sundays were also treated to glorious arias sung by Duncan, Belle, Sarah and Elaine from St Mary’s, and at St Paul’s by professional soloists, Joanne McGahon (soprano) and Richard Woodall (bass) accompanied by Paul Sharman (trumpet). The solos “I know that my Redeemer liveth” and “The trumpet shall sound” were especially memorable.
But the last words must surely belong to the great composer himself - “TO GOD ALONE BE THE GLORY.”