Handel’s Messiah, Walt Disney Concert Hall, December 15, 2009
For many people, Handel’s Messiah means Christmas. The Hallelujah chorus has come to evoke images of gingerbread cookies and sleigh bells, and it is a staple of any decent Christmas music collection. Yet a small number of people decorating their tree this year as they hum along to their favorite version will know that the Hallelujah Chorus does not stand on it’s own, but is rather one movement in a three-part oratorio that spans the life and death of Christ. In fact, to put it in laymen’s terms, Handel’s Messiah is Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ—the musical. The comparison can be extended, since both were criticized as sacrilegious exploitations of the story of Christ’s life for the sake of mere entertainment purposes.
If eighteenth century Londoners felt that performing Messiah in any place besides a church was inappropriate, that’s only because the Walt Disney Concert Hall had yet to be built. Tonight’s performance, the first of two back to back nights, demonstrated the high art and beauty that is the Messiah, not only by featuring some of the world’s leading vocal soloists and showcasing Quebec’s La Chapelle de Québec, but by adding an air of delightful authenticity with their inclusion of Les Violons du Roy, a string orchestra group that specializes in Baroque and Classic period music (depicted above, from a previous performance). While some concertgoers enjoy following along with their Messiah scores and other close their eyes to dampen all senses but aural, the visuals of Les Violons are too exciting to miss. The orchestra uses modern instruments, the use of period bow copies, organ, and a beautifully painted harpsichord that looks like a piece whisked out of the drawing room of one of Jane Austen’s lady friends.
High points of the evening’s performance include soprano Rosemary Joshua’s captivating solos, particularly during “Rejoice Greatly,” where she sang with a genuine feeling and expressiveness, neither exaggerating nor underselling the emotions of the movements. Another treat was countertenor, David Daniels, whose vocal range is mesmerizing and also succeeded in including expressiveness appropriate for his solos. Conductor Bernard Labadie’s connection to the orchestra was evident, Les Violons du Roy being a labor of love with his founding the group more than twenty years ago. Sans-score, Labadie led his group with sprightly movements and a pleasure that was palpable.
Few classical works are as accessible as Handel’s Messiah, which is both in English and tells a story that almost everyone is familiar with. Messiah is an oratorio that can reach all types of audience members and is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.
Tuesday, December 15th & tonight, Wednesday December 16th
Walt Disney Concert Hall
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