Ten years ago, Martin Smith celebrated his 60th birthday by conducting his beloved Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment in "Messiah" in Inigo Jones' Banqueting House, Whitehall. Last night, he did it again, this time in Christopher Wren's Sheldonian Theatre, to mark his 70th birthday. And with the same tenor and bass soloists - all four in fact Cambridge alumni. (Where is the home-grown talent?!)
The banked seating last night gave the opportunity to witness the degree of close eye contact between for instance Nicholas Kraemer at the harpsichord, the first cellist and Maggie Faultless, the leader. While these performances may spoil one for "Messiah" when rendered by lesser players and singers, they certainly bring out new things. "Comfort ye...", the first words we heard, were sung by Mark Padmore with all the intensity required to remind us of Shaw saying that the text was a work of genius: "a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief". Tim Mead wrenched the heart similarly with "A man of sorrows...", and then there was the angelic Katherine Watson (only 26, and a big star looming). Gerald Finley's "The trumpet shall sound" stole the show in the London performance, and did so again last evening. In the intervening decade, he has added Hans Sachs to his repertoire: I thought I detected even a bar or two from "Die Meistersinger" in his oh-so-free final section: brilliant!
Martin looked shattered at the end: I do hope he is not already feeling any pressure to do it all over again in 2023! But where he's concerned nothing would surprise me.