It seems especially appropriate that in a year in which the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible has been celebrated that Cranleigh School put on its latest performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with Charles Jennens’s inspired compilation of texts from this Authorised Version. The sublime message of scripture was especially clear in Kathryn Harries’s performance of ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’, another reminder of how fortunate Cranleigh’s singing pupils are to have this world-renowned opera star as one of its vocal coaches. The three younger soloists made equally important contributions to an uplifting and moving evening. The singers of the augmented Chapel Choir will cherish the memory of performing with these professional singers and the fine musicians of the Merriman Concert Orchestra, led by Kevin Weaver and conducted by Marcus Pashley. Among these ranks were Old Cranleighan Jonathan Hennessy-Brown and current organist Philip Scriven playing continuo.
The concert was also the annual event in the academic year in which the School continues one of its most long-standing links with Cranleigh Village, and the experience of the Cranleigh Village Choral Society singers (including several Cranleigh School parents, ex-parents and ex-Common Room) blending with the young voices of the pupils provided a satisfying choral texture.
A full review will appear in the next edition of the ‘Cranleighan’ but further highlights to mention here for the many unable to obtain a ticket for this sold-out event were the bass arias sung by Jimmy Holliday with real panache (and a fabulous soloist in ‘The trumpet shall sound’); the diction of Welsh tenor John Pierce that reminded us again that this is also Charles Jennens’s ‘Messiah’; and Polish contralto Hanna Hipp’s stylish fluency in a true Baroque style. Among the choruses, the lightness of ‘His yoke is easy’ was a fine achievement with around 200 voices (modern recordings often use choirs a tenth that size). ‘Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs’ seemed exceptionally well-rehearsed: anyone who has sung ‘Messiah’ will tell you it is the hardest piece in the central choral repertoire. The audience were reminded of the tradition of standing for the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus but the conductor ensured that the chosen music from Part Three that followed was no anti-climax: he was saving something for ‘Worthy is the Lamb’. This final chorus with its fugal Amen was the true crowning glory and the full tone and breath control of the chorus after two and a half hours in a warm Speech Hall was stunning. Marcus Pashley paced the varied sections of this monumental chorus as only an experienced choral conductor can do and the applause that followed showed how the packed hall appreciated this as much as your reviewer.