Performances of Messiah abound during the Christmas season but Handel’s atypical oratorio should most appropriately be done at Easter. So “Trove Maundy Thursday” offers a recent un-HIP version conducted by Met Music Director Designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin with a stellar quintet of soloists: Karina Gauvin, Karen Cargill, Christophe Dumaux, Andrew Staples and Matthew Rose.
Messiah isn’t like most other Handel oratorios. Though usually based on Biblical themes—a few exceptions being Semele, Hercules and Alexander Balus—they otherwise closely resemble his operas: a group of individuals interacting during a conflict. Though Messiah has occasionally been staged, it contains no plot per se nor are any of the soloists portraying characters.
Perhaps because of this, Messiah has never been one of my favorite Handel oratorios; I prefer the arresting drama of Saul or Jephtha or Theodora. I might also put in a “plug” for Belshazzar, a rarely performed work that contains some of the composer’s most thrilling choruses. And it’s his choruses that remain the best-known examples of Handel’s vocal writing.
Yet Messiah far more than any other oratorio has captured the public’s imagination since its premiere in Dublin during Lent in 1742. Most of the versions I have heard over the past several decades have been by original-instrument forces and smallish choruses usually featuring brisk tempi.
Though he eschews the horrifying re-orchestrations that have often plagued large-scale Messiahs, Nézet-Séguin leads the Philadelphia Orchestra and a substantial-sounding chorus in an often very beautiful reading that generally favors slower, more deliberate pacing. Happily, he presents the work complete, unlike the annual presentations by the New York Philharmonic which in my experience have been defaced by brutal cuts.
Kimmel Center, Philadelphia
December 11, 2015
Karina Gauvin, soprano
Karen Cargill, mezzo-soprano
Christophe Dumaux, countertenor
Andrew Staples, tenor
Matthew Rose, bass
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Trinity Church in lower Manhattan has recently begun the heroic endeavor of performing all of Handel’s oratorios in free weekly installments. Jephtha was featured in March and the remaining concert this spring will feature the third act of Solomon on April 19.
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