Review: Handel and Haydn Society's Messiah

Handel & Haydn Society
Symphony Hall on Sunday, November 27 (repeated Friday, December 2 and Sunday, December 4)

Handel’s Messiah was brought beautifully to life by the Handel and Haydn Society last Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall. When it comes to a perennial holiday favorite like the Messiah, one often walks into a performance with some trepidation, wondering if it will match up to a previous memory of the great performance. This performance calmed many doubts; Handel and Haydn Society has performed this oratorio annually for the last 152 years, so this rendition of Messiah sounded exactly as it should-lithe and graceful in Part I, majestic and sonorous in Part II, yearning and hopeful in Part III.

The 32-member chorus gave a solid and united performance, singing with real feeling. The highlight of Messiah, “‘Hallelujah,” was sung with heartfelt depth and brought many in the audience, as is the custom, to their feet. The orchestra opened elegantly with the sinphony and continued with finesse, proving a subtle foil to the powerful voices of the soloists and chorus. However, the orchestra seemed at times to overwhelm the alto soloist singer, Krista River, whose delicate notes were occasionally lost in the more robust orchestral accompaniment. Conductor and music director, Grant Llewellyn, surprised the audience and added a touch of whimsical humor by having trumpets chime in from the balcony. Trumpeter Jesse Levine impressed audiences with his bright, vibrant and confident solo, and ”The Trumpet Shall Sound” was one of the true highlights of the afternoon.

It was a joy listening to soprano Awet Andemicael. A former member of the Harvard University Choir and a seasoned opera singer, Andemicael approached the soprano part with confidence and energy. Her bright and silvery voice imbued familiar passages like “I Know My Redeemer Liveth” with warmth and liveliness. Mezzo-soprano Krista River, a concert soloist with the Handel and Haydn Society, gamely took up the alto part and executed it with grace and a touching delicacy. However, she seemed uncomfortable with certain passages and occasionally sounded strained to raise her voice above that of the orchestra. River’s duet with Andemicael in ”How Beautiful Are the Feet” was a surprising addition and a very welcome one-both the soprano and mezzo voices blended delightfully. Baritone Kevin Short and his tenor counterpart, Nathan Granner, both veterans of the operatic scene debuting with the Handel and Haydn Society, sang with forceful dynamism. Granner in particular, lended his parts an interesting operatic air.

It may be a familiar work but Handel and Haydn Society’s rendition of Messiah impressed with its attention to detail, energy and genuine depth. The performance proved a perfect beginning to the holiday season.

December 5, 2005
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