Classical music review: Bach Society’s ‘Messiah’ has the right tempo
05:33 PM CST on Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By SCOTT CANTRELL / The Dallas Morning News
In recent years, each succeeding recording of Handel’s Messiah has seemed determined to break all previous speed records. It was refreshing, then, to hear such sensible – indeed, sensitive – tempos in the Dallas Bach Society’s performance Monday evening. It’s too bad the Meyerson Symphony Center looked less than half full.
The alto aria “Thou art gone up on high” felt a little hurried, as did the duet-and-chorus “O death, where is thy sting?” But otherwise, artistic director James Richman reliably set the tempo giusto, the “just tempo” that let the music dance, either quickly or more slowly.
These were, to be sure, quicker paces than in our grandparents’ Messiahs. And the Bach Society’s chorus of 24 and chamber orchestra of 17, playing baroque-style instruments, were closer to conditions of Handel’s own first performances than to the Victorians’ casts-of-hundreds extravaganzas.
Apart from an occasional out-of-tune violin or violone note, the ensemble played stylishly and well. Even the notoriously cranky valveless trumpets were managed with utter assurance. Trumpeter Nathaniel Mayfield played so suavely in “The trumpet shall sound” – baroque trumpets weren’t loud – that he all but upstaged bass-baritone Stephen Morscheck.
The chorus sang smartly and expressively, too, although the tenors were too soft-edged after intermission. The soloists were right to add ornaments and mini-cadenzas here and there, but the results were too often crude and clumsy.
Rebecca Choate Beasley’s girlish soprano was a bit airy down low, but her upper range fairly glowed. She dispatched the virtuoso coloratura of the 4/4 version of “Rejoice greatly” with impressive agility, but strung out more lyric lines with sweet suppleness. (Still, I keep hoping the Bach Society will program the more graceful 12/8 version of “Rejoice.”)
Kirsten Sollek’s alto had a hard-fired enamel, suggestive of a really good countertenor, with no audible break into chest voice. Tenor Ross Hauck produced clarion top notes and explosive consonants, but the timbre was strangely erratic and he sang too fussily. Morscheck had a denser, darker tone than usual these days in Messiah, and coloratura wasn’t his forte; but he did lend great gravitas to the bass’ sobering messages.
Classical music review: Handel’s ‘Messiah’ inspires greatness from Dallas Bach Society
02:56 PM CST on Friday, December 24, 2010
By SCOTT CANTRELL / The Dallas Morning News
Handel’s Messiah on Thursday evening inspired the Dallas Bach Society’s best music-making in recent memory. The soloists were a mixed bag, but the 24-voice chorus was admirably balanced and blended, with diction so clear that, for once, printed texts weren’t missed. The 19-piece period-instruments orchestra was lithe and limber, and even the formidably difficult valveless baroque trumpets were managed with utter security.
In fact, Nathaniel Mayfield, the soloist in “The trumpet shall sound,” was eloquent. And, yes, in case you wondered, baroque trumpets really were that gentle-toned.
These forces had a previous performance, in Arlington, under their belts before Thursday’s at the Meyerson Symphony Center. That surely contributed to a tautness of ensemble, a sureness of means and ends, not always typical of Bach Society concerts.
Leading from the harpsichord, the driving force was artistic director James Richman. He supplied the expected assets: lively tempos, stylish buoyancy and shapeliness, and a dramatic flair for a work conceived, after all, for theatrical performance.
Just occasionally, the fleetness was too much of a good thing. “Behold the Lamb of God,” “Thou art gone up on high,” “Let us break their bonds” and the 4/4 version of “Rejoice greatly” would have been more persuasive a notch or two slower. And, well, I keep hoping for the less frantic 12/8 version of “Rejoice…” Chorus basses struggled to keep together in “And he shall purify.”
Of the soloists, the men outshone the women. Derek Chester’s added ornamentation sometimes overgilded the lilies, but his easeful and wondrously pliant tenor was deployed to maximum expressive effect. “Thy rebuke hath broken his heart” was heart-stopping. David Grogan’s sparing ornamentation was a welcome alternative to some excesses elsewhere. His meaty bass shook the heavens and the earth and sounded the trumpet with imposing conviction.
Kirsten Sollek’s alto had a heated focus, but little warmth. Nell Snaidas supplied a slender soprano with a bit too much nasal resonance, and her high-flown cadenza at the end of “If God be for us” was tasteless.
Scottish International Festival of Trumpets! Mr. Mayfield will be performing and presenting a masterclass in Elgin, Scotland, between June 18-20. For registration and more information, please visit www.sift-uk.com