At the conclusion of another Melbourne Symphony Orchestra season gutted by lockdowns, which would have sent the organisation into oblivion without last week’s grant from the COVID-19 Arts Sustainability Fund, the annual tradition of Handel’s Messiahdelivered greater than usual joy. Significantly, this concert marked the return of the MSO Chorus after nearly two years. They were in excellent form, alongside four local soloists and a chamber-orchestra-sized band that was probably more about COVID caution than Baroque authenticity.

MSO Messiah

Conductor Graham Abbott marshalled the talent with an assured, lively tempo. Variously attired, from white tie to at least one T-shirt, the trimmed-down MSO was dominated by luscious strings. They were enhanced by a handful of other instruments including harpsichord, organ and trumpets, whose cameos delivered pure, ringing notes of thrilling majesty.

Mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell (in a black gown with gorgeous glittering shawl collar) sang with lovely tone, technical assurance and an emotional commitment that was particularly striking in He was despised. Also sympathetically engaged with the text, Samantha Clarke revealed a mellifluous lyric soprano. Tenor...