Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Cincinnati Baroque 'Messiah' soars

Concert review

By John K. Toedtman
Enquirer contributor

Sunday afternoon at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Kenwood, listeners were treated to an ambitious program. Cincinnati Baroque, under the direction of Thomas Juneau, with orchestra, vocal soloists and chorus, presented all three parts of Handel's oratorio, Messiah.

Surely the most famous oratorio ever written, Handel composed this massive, lengthy work about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus in only 24 days in the summer of 1741.

In the first part, about the birth of Jesus, tenor Randy Umstead sang his recitative and air masterfully. "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed" sums up the purpose of this great work.

Bass soloist Mischa Bouvier negotiated some unusually florid vocal lines for bass with ease and composure. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Fishlock has a lovely voice that sometimes was covered by an overly zealous accompaniment in her recitative and air, "Oh, Thou, that tellest good tidings..." (The lid had been removed from the harpsichord and, despite Christina Haan's fine playing, the instrument's presence was overbearing and strident everywhere except during the chorus parts of the oratorio.)

Bouvier's singing in the air, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light," was solemn and distinguished, and the vocal gymnastics required of "For unto us a child is born," were eagerly executed by the chorus.

Molly Quinn's graceful soprano voice was introduced in the recitative "There were shepherds abiding in the field." The trumpets of David Thomas and Ashley Hall were soaring and spine-tingling.

Part Two replaces the joy of Jesus' birth with a dark, introspective sadness. Text and music combine to paint a picture of the torment and suffering Jesus endured. Umstead solidly established himself in the second part. He has a glorious instrument and uses it with consummate musicianship and good taste.

The chorus sang "The Lord gave the word" with a great outburst of exuberance as the music built toward the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of Part Two. Conductor Juneau pushed the tempo to a breakneck gallop, and, combining powerful voices, great brass and an exhilarating rush of speed, he produced a memorable Hallelujah.

Part Three, the shortest of the three, recounts what has gone before. Thomas' trumpet solo was beyond reproach. The beautiful duet with Fishlock and Umstead expressed the message of the text well: "O death where is thy sting?" The last chorus summed up all the bombast, passion and sorrow in a grand finale, well supported by timpanist Joe Hickey, the orchestra and chorus.

The audience responded with a standing ovation.

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