Thursday December 8, 2011
Handel's Messiah: Orchestra London's Cathedral Series December 2011
by Brian Hay
Orchestra London's performance of 'Messiah' illustrated the merits of seeing an ensemble perform a piece time and again. The choir was a different one and their placement in relation to the orchestra was altered from two years ago. Conductor Timothy Vernon took the tempos at a more leisurely pace than in 2009. The soloists on hand were a completely different group. The slower tempos allowed them to apply the sort of ornamentation Handel left room for. The result was a 'Messiah' with a much lighter touch.
The singers employed for this concert were more than ready to meet the formidable demands of Handel's music. Tenor Christopher David Mayell Mayell has a voice that's light in timbre but more powerful than one would expect. He navigated the twists and turns of 'Every Valley Shall Be Exalted' and delivered an exuberant rendition of the piece. He was even more comfortable with 'Behold, And See if There Be Any Sorrow' later on. By the time he sang 'Though Shalt Break Them' he sounded like he was having fun.
Soprano Suzanne Rigden is young and, of the four, probably has the least experience. Her voice is very light but very agile and she can project incredible volume without becoming shrill. Her renditions of 'Rejoice Greatly, O' Daughter of Zion' and 'I Know That My Redeemer Liveth' were joyous. Her voice became a little raw at times but that's just lack of experience. There's an MP3 on her site of her singing the Queen of the Night's second aria 'Der Hölle Rache' where she hits and holds those high notes impeccably and with power. Time and hard work are going to bring this force of nature to a level of refinement that'll have her star shining brightly.
Anita Krause has a rich alto voice and uses her vibrato to apply a variety of shadings to it. She also uses ornamentation very tastefully. She did it beautifully with the soloists part of 'O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion' and really came to the fore during 'He Was Despised'. Conductor Tim Vernon cut its length from thirteen to about seven minutes while Krause shaded its nuances. Together they presented the piece as a lovely and caressing lament. The duet she performed with Soprano Suzanne Rigden, 'He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd', was a few minutes of sweet beauty.
Baritone Todd Wieczorek displayed great agility and impressive control throughout the show. His voice is very smooth through all the areas of his range and he has a sense of where emphasis should (and shouldn't) be placed that sounds as much instinctive as learned. 'The People That Walked in Darkness and Have Seen Great Light' was sang with solemnity augmented with a light touch that kept it from sounding heavy handed. His rendition of 'The Trumpet Shall Sound' was a showcase of dramatic singing. Shawn Spicer played the trumpet part with a flair that emphasized the dynamics Wieczorek injected into the piece beautifully.
The platform the Orchestra normally sits on was removed for this performance. That put the choir above them. They were lined up in three rows at different levels. The soloists each had a small podium to climb when they sang. Conductor Tim Vernon was placed on a podium that put him above the orchestra but squarely between the soloists and the foot of the choir. It created a difference in the sound but the intended effect didn't come together immediately. The orchestra hasn't worked with (Timothy) Vernon for a while. The intimacy they had with him which is now so evident with Alain Trudel took some time to reassert itself. These factors affected the performance of the choir at first. That's the bad news. Forget about it. The way things unfolded it became unimportant pretty quickly.
The connection Vernon has with this orchestra reasserted itself quickly. When that happened the work of the London Pro Musica Choir sharpened up. Their Conductor, Kenneth Fleet, did a great job of balancing the vocal sections for this concert. By the time the choir reached the numbers that follow 'He Was Despised' the entire musical machine was flowing as a single entity. The effect intended by the placement of the choir had their passages soaring along a celestial highway. The soloists found new confidence. By the time they reached the 'Hallelujah Chorus any question as to why people always stand for the piece didn't need answering. It was fabulous and it was magic.
'Messiah' always has some of that and this performance had plenty.
This performance took place in St. Paul's Cathedral in London Ontario on Wednesday December 7, 2011. This review was written to convey a sense of what it was like to be there.
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Conductor Timothy Vernon
Conductor Laureate for Orchestra London
Photo from Dean Artists Management Page
Photo by Brian Cooper