Annapolis Chorale offers sublime production of `Messiah'


December 21, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

The Annapolis Chorale's annual presentation of George Frederic Handel's Messiah -- which, in the words of director J. Ernest Green, so beautifully "embodies in every note the power, majesty and mystery of faith" -- usually fills St. Anne's Episcopal Church to capacity. It did so again last Friday evening.

To provide a moving religious experience, Handel's work requires soloists who are vocal virtuosi, a chorus that can articulate the message of hope and fulfillment with sensitivity and feeling, and an orchestra that supports them while majestically propelling the anthem forward.

In the warm acoustics of St. Anne's, Green, the soloists, the musicians and the choir offered a sublime performance that accomplished all of this and more.

From the beginning, the piece had a strong element of high drama akin to religious fervor that grew as if this Messiah was operatically driven. There was no trace of the ponderous, heavy sound that sometimes diminishes this monumental work.

Here we had a choir that was fully engaged -- the bright soprano, alto, tenor and sonorous basses in distinct ribbons of gorgeous sound that formed a miraculous whole.

The first soloist, tenor Andre Bierman, set an elegant tone. His vocal agility, an extended line that seemed to require no breath, and his apparent religious devotion combined in a moving "Comfort Ye" and "Ev'ry Valley" to open Handel's oratorio.

Baritone Shouvik Mondle proved again that he has few peers in terms of vocal power, richness, vocal agility and beauty of tone. Mondle also projects a passionately devout quality.

Mezzo Susan Fleming delivered a lovely, elegant performance.

Debuting at this concert, Peabody Conservatory graduate Natalie Conte easily negotiated all the vocal embellishments in her clear soprano.

Also making her Annapolis Chorale debut was mezzo Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber, who met most challenges.

Instrumental soloists deserving praise are Susan Rider, whose trumpet solo sang with Mondle's baritone. Timpanist Greg McDonald added drama as he rhythmically propelled the music forward, and harpsichordist Larry Molinaro added musical distinction.

Among the many highlights was the chorus' singing of "His Yoke is Easy" that preceded the inspired "Hallelujah" chorus that concludes the oratorio.

After intermission, the program continued with a selection of carols that included a lovely a cappella "Sing We Now of Christmas" followed by "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Joy to the World" with the audience joining in to end the evening on a joyous note.

The performance was followed by a prolonged standing ovation, perhaps so intense in part because of the large number of young people attending. They made the event what I overheard one person describe as "more exciting than a rock concert."

This adds a 21st-century dimension to a dramatic, operatically driven version of Messiah that seemed totally appropriate.

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