Hertford Choral Society returned to familiar ground with an excellent performance of Messiah Handel with the Hertfordshire Baroque Soloists and a strong line-up of soloists.

I say familiar but, in a nice twist, Derek Harrison devised a route through the work eschewing some of the more familiar movements in Part Two to allow time for some frequently omitted movements in Part Three, including a superb duet for Counter-Tenor and Tenor - with the challenge to Death's sting being thrown back and forth between the two.

The orchestra gave a spirited account of the Overture playing at Handel's original pitch which gave a warmer less pressed sound. This continued in the choruses where the Sopranos and Tenors were able to create a much more lyrical sound than is sometimes the case.

Natasha Page gave stylish, lyrical performances of her movements with well-considered ornamentation.

Ian Aitkenhead gave similarly polished accounts of the Counter-Tenor arias demonstrating a wide range of colour and control.

Mark Chaundy had a well-considered approach to the Tenor arias though, for me, the anger/violence of the dashing and breaking of the Potter's Vessel was rather tame.

James Gower gave commanding accounts of his movements, showing both great lyricism and a cavernous lower register. This was deployed to great effect in 'The Trumpet shall sound' where for once the words, rather than the trumpet, were to the fore.

The chorus sang with great skill and élan - and pulled off a neat coup de theatre by singing the Hallelujah chorus from memory, thereby giving it extra intensity and focus. Throughout their diction was exemplary and they maintained a good balance between parts - especially in the unaccompanied chordal movements. If there were a few slips in the trickier parts of a couple of movements they were expertly recovered by the clear direction of Derek Harrison almost before they occurred.

It would be wrong not to mention the skilful way the church was lit - bringing out the warmth of the stone and highlighting the magnificent roof. A most enjoyable evening; for the skill of the music-making, for the re-acquaintance with some familiar friends and for the introduction to some new ones.

Martin G Penny