Green Brings Out Best Of Handel's Holiday Masterpiece

A Praiseworthy'messiah'

December 24, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Once again, the area's only full-length "Messiah" of the season comes by way of Ernest Green and his Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus, and once again local music lovers are in their debt.

This 1991 version of Handel's indefatigable masterpiece may not have been the last word in grandeur or breadth, but it was a zippy, extroverted, rather creative "Messiah" that proved worthwhile from all angles while delighting the large crowd that packed St. Anne's Church to hear it Saturday evening.

Interpretively and technically, there was a great deal to admire.

The Chamber chorus continues to grow in both numbers and stature.It creates a full, often bracing sound, and its members often sing with admirable intonation and dexterity.

Dexterous singing is a must in "Messiah" under any circumstance -- the sixteenth-note runs in "For Unto Us a Child Is Born" and "His Yoke Is Easy" wait for no man -- and with Maestro Green's predilection for zingy tempos, singers hadbetter be able to move fast.

Move they did. The buoyant enthusiasm of Handel's grand writing emerged with clarity and precision in chorus after chorus.

The dramatic change between parts I and II was conveyed with intensity and commitment from the opening downbeat of the Easter Portion.

Only on a few occasions in the 2 1/2-hour work did the singers experience any serious problems. The tenors could have used a wake-up call before "And the Glory of the Lord"; The quick tempo seemed to catch them by surprise. The fellows were also responsible for some unfortunate bleating in -- appropriately -- "All We LikeSheep."

For once, the fast pace seemed to get the better of everybody, as they breathlessly crammed as many sixteenth-notes as possible into the two measure phrases.

There was also one heart-stopping derailment in the final "Amen," but the fugal entry of the violins kept the anxiety brief.

All in all, the singers did themselves proudand should spend the holidays knowing they successfully delivered music's greatest Christmas present to their audience.

Green has assembled a first-class chamber orchestra for his choral ensembles. They played an integral role in the success of this "Messiah".

Particularly noteworthy was the continuo provided by cellist Suzanne Orban and harpsichordist Jim Dale. Handel's extraordinary recitatives were given great life by exotic, improvised ruffles and flourishes from the keyboard and an expressive foundation from the cello. Bravo.

And what a trumpet solo in "The Trumpet Shall Sound"! Exuberant, beautifully turned and exceptionally accurate.

Green's four soloists were also quite admirable. Susan Fleming is a wonderful mezzo who can mix registers with the best of them, as she showed when Green opted for the alto version of "But Who May Abide."

Tenor Gary Leard, baritone Robert Kennedy and soprano Carolene Winter are all talented, lyrical singers who suit "Messiah" well. All of them sang admirably.

To nitpick, Leard was scrambling for notes in "Thou Shalt Dash Them," and there were times when the baritone might have joined in the ornamentation fun more then he did. Winter seemed more detached than usual, which kept some of her solos at a distance. But there was still much toenjoy.

In fact, the only participant in Saturday's concert who proved impossible to like was the bozo responsible for the "beep-beep" watch that sounded at inopportune moments during both the Christmas and Easter portions. The wearer of this damnable digital doo-dad deserves coal in his or her stocking from now til the end of time.

Bah humbug!

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