“MESSIAH”, performed by Oakville Ensemble Reply

Review by Judith Caldwell

Dec. 8th, ‘12

Oakville Ensemble’s fourth annual presentation of The Messiah took place on Saturday. The Ensemble is a small choir of 16 singers plus soloists and is led by Maestro Stephane Potvin.  Sometimes they sing a capella but this evening they were accompanied by a nine piece orchestra of strings, trumpets, continuo and timpani.

The Oakville Ensemble in  performance

The Oakville Ensemble in performance

In his program notes Potvin gave the best précis of the Messiah I have ever seen.  I quote: Handel begins the story with the orchestra alone, playing an overture in E minor – which was known as the key of despair during the Baroque era. …Immediately following the overture and the ensuing fugue, the key changes to E major for the tenor singing “Comfort ye” – E major was known as the key of ‘hope’.

And so the story continues, from prophecies to the birth of the Messiah with angels singing and shepherds dancing to the sound of their ‘pifferi’ (shepherds bagpipes), the Passion with the mocking crowd, the resurrection and the dawn of a new era.  You will hear the burning of the refiner’s fire and the potter’s vessel breaking in a multitude of pieces, you will feel the earth trembling under God’s wrath, you will shed tears of joy at the birth of the promised infant, and revel in the grandiose final Amen.”

Because of the unusually small group performing the Messiah, this evenings presentation seemed more intimate and emotional than is usual.    And we heard the hope in ‘Comfort ye’, the prophesy in ‘thus saith the Lord’ , the despair in ‘He was despised’, the fury in ‘Why do the nations’ and the joy in ‘the trumpet shall sound’. Each of the soloists was encouraged to express their feelings as they sang.  Erika Bailey, the alto soloist sang ‘He was despised’ without any of the trills which sometimes go with it and the plain rendition left us space to reflect on our despair.  Bob Knight as the bass challenged us to be angry in ‘Why do the nations’ and to give in to rejoicing with ‘the trumpet shall sound’.

The choir was crisp and had wonderful timing.  The Hallelujah chorus was as rousing as usual, but my favourite was ‘For Unto Us’  where they absolutely nailed the timing on ‘wonderful, counsellor’ etc and the final ‘Amen’ was just as over the top as Handel had written it.  The only downside of the evening was the acoustics in the  hall. I moved during Intermission and heard the second half much more clearly.  The fact the there are 19 microphones of various kinds in the choir area indicates that the acoustical challenges are well known.  Hopefully they will sound clearer at St. John’s on Sunday.

The next concert in this series is Bach & Byrd on March 2nd and 3rd, 2013.

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