Although it has been performed in many settings there is no better place to hear The Messiah than in one of our great cathedrals. It is a sacred work which fills a sacred space to perfection and completes it, adding a soundtrack to the still, vaulted space which reminds the listener of its meaning and purpose. Hereford Choral Society’s concert in Hereford cathedral was a lovely example of something which will be happening all over the country during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Handel’s best known oratorio has always been popular and it still is. The cathedral was packed and the choir was large and enthusiastic, enjoying their chance to sing it with an orchestra and four talented soloists. The Messiah is often thought of as a Christmas piece, and it is, but it also tells the whole story of salvation and God’s plan for the world. Whether you believe it or not it’s a tremendous story and it carries you along, building through one musical climax after another, as the tale unfolds. Possibly we don’t need to believe it in order to be moved because when Handel wrote this music he absolutely did, and those people who listen without faith can be moved by his. It is a work of enormous bravura. There is no room for doubt or questioning here. God is great and he has saved us all and we can be gloriously sure that one day we will be with him in heaven. That statement demands the biggest amen in music at the end and it gets it. Handel was writing as a direct response to his faith and his confidence in his God shines out from every note. It is humbling to think that this response to his faith is still speaking to people and drawing crowds around 250 years later. After writing the Hallelujah chorus he famously told his servant, “I did think that I did see all heaven before me and the great God himself” and that window onto heaven that his genius showed him is still there for us now. It takes your breath away when you hear it in the proper setting and the beautiful, simple declaration which the Soprano soloist makes immediately afterwards, “I know that my Redeemer Liveth” is a perfect response to what we have just been shown, a statement of quiet humble confidence in the face of God’s glory. This was the start of my Christmas for 2009 and I can’t imagine a better one.