Now that the Handel + Haydn has presented Messiah Friday in the first of three performances at Symphony Hall, the holiday season is officially underway. Music Director Harry Christophers led it in a lithe and exciting fashion: transparent, shimmering, and supple. Most movements were played attacca, so there was more flow and logic to the music than one often hears. We reveled in Handel’s skillful text painting of the compelling story.
In the opening Sinfony and tenor accompagnato “Comfort Ye”, the strings laid down the satisfying basic sound. Where sometimes these movements are played with exaggerated abruptness and weird accents, this string section blended with, soothing and almost creamy tone. Balance, ensemble, and intonation were flawless. Tenor Colin Balzer admirably proclaimed good news in this opening and following aria, “Evry Valley” in a beautiful, round sound that was also operatic.
Baritone Sumner Thompson ‘s warm, earthy tone, felt lighter than some basses I’ve heard perform Messiah. His high moment came in “The Trumpet shall sound” with Jesse Levine’s noble trumpet playing.
Countertenor Robin Blaze possesses an astonishing soprano voice which projected with becoming straight fluidity in “He Shall Feed his Flock”.
Joelle Harvey is a soprano of the first order. Her voice is liquid gold, and her ornaments in the extremely fast rendition of “Rejoice greatly” dazzled. She was well cast as an angel.
The Handel & Haydn Chorus deserves a review of its own. They functions like a fine-tuned Rolls Royce: smooth, powerful, and luxurious. Their enunciation and involvement brought high drama and emotion to everything they sang. The transition between the two choruses “And with his stripes” and “All we like Sheep” constituted just one of the many striking moments. And the sorrow they expressed in “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” rended our hearts. “Since by Man Came Death” opened with a haunting a cappella. This chorus is at the top of its form,
Music Director Harry Christophers seemed at times to be playing the orchestra like an accordion; his gestures pulling crescendos and decrescendos from the orchestra with an incredible responsiveness. In this very long work, no one’s energy flagged, either on stage or in the nearly packed house. You have two more chances to hear this magnificent performance: a soothing and uplifting balm, filled with hope.