Annapolis Chorale gives sublime performance of Handel's `Messiah'

J. Ernest Green draws the best from group

Review

December 23, 2005|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Annapolis Chorale's annual presentation in St. Anne's Episcopal Church of George Frederic Handel's Messiah - perhaps the most performed work in the choral repertoire - signals the arrival of the Christmas season for local choral music lovers.

In his notes accompanying the Annapolis Chorale's 1995 Messiah compact disc, music director J. Ernest Green wrote: "One of the things that has made the [work's] long tenure possible is the immediacy of Handel's music and Jennens' adaptation of passages from Scripture. Far from being a mere retelling of the Christmas and Easter stories, the piece embodies in every note the power, majesty and mystery of faith."

In 1741, at a low point in his life, Handel took 21 days to compose his great oratorio from a Charles Jennens text of scriptural passages.

To provide a moving religious experience, Handel's work requires soloists who are vocal virtuosi and a chorus that can articulate the message of hope and fulfillment with sensitivity and feeling.

On Friday, within the warm acoustics of St. Anne's, Green inspired the chorus and orchestra to deliver a sublime performance.

Tenor Andre Bierman, the first soloist, set a commanding tone. His strong voice easily negotiated "Comfort Ye My People" and "Every Valley" to open the work with sensitivity, authority and grandeur.

Baritone Larry Small has a voice of power and richness but was somewhat labored in the coloratura passages, singing in a slower tempo than the others.

Although not quite up to her usual high standards, mezzo Susan Fleming delivered a thoroughly professional and heartfelt performance.

The fourth soloist was Leah Inger in her Annapolis Chorale debut.

Her bell-like voice easily negotiated every vocal embellishment with an exultant quality that was most appropriate in "Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion" and in "There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Fields."

Green knows how to balance and display the singers and orchestra to full advantage within the church space.

He also knows how to place each voice of the chorus for maximum effect, a talent that provided momentous music that surpassed the 1995 CD version.

The chorus sang "And the Glory of the Lord" with power and immense feeling that only grew stronger in the sections that followed.

The chorale's signature bright and brilliant sound shone in Messiah - an ideal piece for displaying the individual voices in distinct ribbons of sound that formed a miraculous whole.

Among the many highlights, the most moving was "His yoke is easy," which preceded the inspired musical peak in the "Hallelujah" chorus to conclude the oratorio.

After intermission, the program continued with a selection of orchestral works, including a charming rendition of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Greensleeves and carols sung by the chorale with the audience joining in on the last three - "Joy to the World," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "O Come All Ye Faithful."

Messiah provided an evening of majestic music that was a Christmas gift from Green and the Chorale for the audience to treasure.

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