Monday, December 9, 2019

Lean in the forces at work, 'Messiah' at Second Presbyterian has just the right girth and a nice array of soloists

Michelle Louer showed "Messiah" mastery in sophomore outing with the IBO.
Last year's initial collaboration on Handel's "Messiah" between the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra and the Beecher Singers of Second Presbyterian Church was so satisfying I just had to return for the deuxieme Sunday afternoon.

It was well worth it. Buoyed by Second Presbyterian's fine acoustics, the 15-voice choir and the 18-piece orchestra (for the most part no larger than the body of singers, since timpani and two trumpets are sparingly used) worked seamlessly together, as they did in 2018.

Director Michelle Louer's selection of soloists from the choir seemed even more inspired than it did last year. And there was plenty of mostly secure ornamentation in the solos, often with an apt flourish at slowed final cadences, starting with tenor Blake Beckemeyer's picturesque "rough places" in the oratorio's first aria.

The performance enjoyed the contributions of a fine male alto, Michael Walker. He was robust in all registers, especially in his initial appearance, "But who may abide." He displayed a particularly luminous tone, weighted with just enough pathos, in the work's alto showpiece, "He was despised."

Nearly three hours after his first appearance, Walker sounded a little too gentle in "If God be for us," the work's last aria, which heralds the formidable choral package of "Worthy is the Lamb" and "Amen." The choir was evidently not tired, as the assertive "Blessing and honour, glory and power" section had all the might anyone has any right to expect, and the complex "Amen" was sturdy and well-balanced from first note to last, the orchestra following suit.

The only soloist returning from last year, bass Samuel Spade, was again forthright and impassioned in "The trumpet shall sound" and the recitative that introduces it. This time I didn't hesitate to notice that he poured as much conviction into the aria's middle section, with the solo trumpet's radiant obbligato suspended, as he had in the main material, where his dotted-rhythm treatment of the tune upon its return shook with portent.

The other soloist in his voice class, Jesse Warren, gave more than adequate warning of the miracle to come in the early recitative "Thus saith the Lord." He doubled down on that hint of ferocity in "Why do the nations so furiously rage together" in Part Two.

In the brief, dramatic Nativity portion of "Messiah," the sequence for soprano was brightly managed by Paulina
Title page of the 1902 score (as reprinted in 1942) that I inherited from my father, a version beloved in the early 20th century, since superseded, including elimination of the inauthentic definite article in the title.
Francisco, climaxed by the brilliant chorus-orchestra partnership of "Glory to God," with the crowning splendor  of the IBO's pair of "natural," valveless trumpets.

A well-matched duo of Amanda Russo Stante and Erin Twenty Benedict made the linked arias "He shall feed his flock" and "Come unto Him" fully complementary. Reverent fervor suffused Caitlin Seranek Stewart's performance of the beloved aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth," with a few off-pitch notes of little account.

A virtuoso sequence of pain and glory, from "All they that see him laugh him to scorn" to "But Thou didst not leave his soul in Hell," was spectacularly brought off by tenor soloist Gregorio Taniguchi. Beckemeyer returned shortly thereafter to display the advantage of presenting soloists of different expressive capabilities as he sang the tenor recitative and aria that immediately precede the Hallelujah Chorus.

I've concentrated on soloists here because their variety and fitness for an array of tasks in this performance worthily reflected Handel's own practice of deploying more than the four individual soloists stipulated by the score. The ensemble opportunities came off creditably as well, but to admire how tastefully ornamented solos needn't get in the way of the direct, declamatory style proper to oratorio singing deserves extra consideration.

And nine adept soloists drawn from a choir of 15 — amazing: another "Messiah" miracle!

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