This year’s performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Bulawayo Municipal Orchestra is rewarding because of the adoption of the Watkins-Shaw edition of the score and because of some fine solo singing. The Watkins-Shaw edition restores the orchestra to the modest size Handel himself would have expected. The gain in textural clarity is substantial and the music moves with a buoyant purposefulness much closer to Handel’s muse than the foggy re-scorings we are accustomed to.
Restricting the chorus to 62 ensured a sensible balance with the orchestral forces. The choral singing, though, by the Bulawayo Choral Society quite often sounded like a routine run-through, with late entries in His Yoke is Easy, and unaccented fioretura in And He Shall Purify.
However, Lift Up Your Heads and the final chorus had all the attack and fired vigour one had missed elsewhere.
The solo team was unusually well-integrated. Soprano Marjorie Hird sang with unassuming confidence and simplicity, and the guest contralto, Elisabeth Elsom, invested her airs with a wealth of feeling, even if her voice was not always well-focused in recitative. Their duet He Shall Feed His Flock was memorably beautiful.
The visiting tenor, Bradley Harris, is a real find, with a fine flexible lyric voice and an experienced sense of style. Maurice Kibel’s base is more rounded and even better projected than before, and his enthusiasm for the music communicates vividly.