Review: Philharmonic's 'Messiah' offers comfort along with its fleet tempos

Contributing Culture CriticDecember 8, 2013 

Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell led the Lexington Chamber Chorale in the chorus "Hallelujah" of Handel's Messiah in 2010.

RICH COPLEY — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra accomplished well its annual traversal of Handel’s Messiah on Saturday night at the Cathedral of Christ the King with good soloists and a fine choral effort by the Lexington Chamber Chorale. The concert, one of several presentations of 'Messiah' by various ensembles this season, did not necessarily offer anything new in this annual holiday cultural obligation, but the assembled forces succeeded in honoring the tradition and bringing the comfort of the familiar to those who cherish it.

The orchestra, conducted by music director Scott Terrell, sounded beautiful in the warm acoustic of the church, although the group’s layout in the chancel area practically guaranteed moments of imprecision between the harpsichord and bass and the strings and wind instruments. Terrell chose very fast tempos for practically every number, even crimping the spaces between them into mere breathless pauses, but the orchestra played with clear articulation throughout, especially the oboists and trumpeters, who were in an acoustical sweet spot and therefore stood out markedly whenever they were playing.

The four soloists sang beautifully, though without particular effort to make the words understood. Soprano Sydney Mancasola has an uncommonly creamy tone, which she wielded with lovely musicality, especially in her sincere, hopeful delivery of I Know That My Redeemer Liveth. The very young countertenor Caleb Barnes appears to have a bright future, based on his strong, gorgeous sound and winsome performance manner. Tenor Javier Abreu demonstrated a sweet, limpid voice, but he depended on crooning rather than real breath support for some high notes and long passages, resulting in an underpowered sound compared to the other soloists. The clarity of Abreu’s passagework was also compromised by Terrell’s fleet tempos, but baritone Donovan Singletary gave an excellent, assured rendition of his numbers, articulating the music with unusual incisiveness and energy. His invigorating performance of The Trumpet Shall Sound, ably partnered by Stephen Campbell’s elegant trumpeting, anchored this whole Messiah.

The Lexington Chamber Chorale, under the direction of Gary Anderson, offered a plush sonority given its modest size, singing spiritedly not just in the big famous choruses like For Unto Us a Child Is Born and Hallelujah but also in the trickier numbers like His Yoke Is Easy. However, the group’s enunciation of the text, for which I praised their performance last year, was mushy on this occasion, sacrificing intelligible diction for pretty sound, I suspect.

Sometimes Terrell’s tempos got the better of the Chorale, resulting in washes of undulating phrases from the choir while the orchestra provided the actual succession of pitches in such numbers as And He Shall Purify and He Trusted in God. Rapid articulation and clear diction were entirely achievable in the cathedral space, which is not too reverberant, as demonstrated by both the orchestra and the soloists, so these are areas for the Chorale to work on for next year. I hope they will retain their much-improved choral sound and the infectious joy they bring to their rendition of this all-too-familiar score.

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