By John Rushby-Smith

Last spring, under their director Ashley Grote, the Ross-on-Wye Choral Society and the Musical and Amicable Society orchestra gave first class performances of Schubert’s Magnificat and Haydn’s Harmonie Messe.

Mr Grote has now moved on to pastures new and his replacement, Russell Burton, made his debut with the society last weekend, conducting Handel’s Messiah. Handel was above all a theatre composer and in Messiah he drew together all his dramatic skills, even to the extent of pinching music from his own operas.

It is a vivid work full of colourful contrasts, from the pastoral beauty of He shall feed His flock to the grandiose nobility of the Hallelujah Chorus. What Russell Burton served up, however, was more monochromatic. The choir seemed to tread warily, as though unsure of what was expected of them. Note-wise their singing was accurate but it was short on expressive nuance. The orchestra too sounded under-prepared and occasionally intonation and ensemble suffered. That said, the trumpet obbligato in The trumpet shall sound was beautifully judged. Of the soloists, soprano Eleanor Ross sang prettily, with clear diction and a nice sense of line, and if contralto Lindsay Bramley’s tone was uneven in the faster sections, her sustained phrases were sung with elegance. The two men, tenor Paul Badley and bass Jimmy Holliday, clearly knew exactly what they were doing. All in all, it was a workmanlike performance, but it was frustrating to be aware that such potentially excellent forces could have given so much more.