REVIEW: Buxton Musical Society, Judas Maccabaeus, St John’s Church

The Musical Society opened their new season of concerts with a rousing performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. One of the last Oratorios Handel composed it is based loosely on the events described in the Apocryphal 1 Maccabees when the Selucid Empire had decided to destroy the Jewish religion. Fortunately for the Israelites, a hero, Judas Maccabaeus, arrived in time to save the chosen race and incidentally establish a helpful alliance with Rome.

Under Michael Williams’ confident direction the Choir and Orchestra sounded really polished with a wonderful quality of string playing. And the choice of Joshhua Ellicott (tenor) to sing the title role was particularly successful, He sounded heroic and even looked the part as well! It was good also to welcome back Christopher Underwood to Buxton singing the part of Judas’ brother Simon. It is many years since Christopher has sung with the Society but his voice is still as powerful and rich as ever.

An interesting feature was the use of recorders in place of the more normal flutes for the chorus See, the conquering hero comes!. They gave an unexpected timbre to a familiar piece of music.

Much of the narrative of the oratorio is concerned with smiting the enemy and there are some stirring choruses with exciting trumpet obligato – splendidly handled by Martin Cresswell. But amid all the bombast and rejoicing of victory over the slain what was perhaps the most moving moment was the duet O lovely peace, most sensitively sung by Helen Groves (soprano) and Susanna Spicer (mezzo). It is one of Handel’s most beautiful melodies. In an increasingly violent world it expresses something we all long for - “O lovely peace…Come , spread your blessings all around”

Peter Low