by Judith Caldwell
The Bach Elgar Choir gave a performance of Handel’s Messiah to a sold out and appreciative audience at Melrose United Church on Saturday evening. Handel had written many operas to varied responses and was considering retirement when he was asked to write a sacred oratorio to be performed in Dublin. He collaborated with his friend Charles Jennens, an aristocratic man of letters who drew on both the Old and the New Testaments for the text. The debut in Dublin in 1742 was a resounding success and its staying power has been established by continued performances over the last 274 years .
The choir performing “MESSIAH”
Not surprising given the combination of glorious music and a text sung in English. The Bach Elgar choir, soloists were Sheila Deitrich, soprano; mezzo Jennifer Enns Modolo; Bud Roach, tenor; baritone David Roth. They & the 20-piece orchestra was directed by Alexander Cann.
Part I deals with the ancient prophecies, the Nativity and the work of Christ and begins with a Sinfonia introduction followed by a soaring tenor recitative ‘Comfort ye my people’ that really sets up the clarity of the text and the responsiveness of the music. The words need to be clearly enunciated even while being sung with vibrato and soloists and choir managed that brilliantly. The extremely good acoustics in the sanctuary also helped.
Part I has arias for each of the solo voices who are story-tellers rather than particular characters. It also has some wonderful choruses including ‘For unto to us a child is born’ & ends on a joyful note with ‘His yoke is easy, and his burtden is light’.
Part II is darker and more dramatic and deals with Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and with God’s ultimate victory. It begins with the muted chorus of ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ and moves into the sad alto aria ‘He was despised’. Part II has difficult and moving arias for each of the soloists especially the bass aria ‘Why do the nations so furiously rage together’, which is fiendishly difficult and was sung masterfully by Roth. The chorus ‘All we like sheep’ was interesting too as it began fast and light, like sheep gamboling in a meadow, and moved onto a slower and more apprehensive sound as though they sensed something about to happen. Roach’s tenor aria ‘Thou shall break them’ set us up for the wonderfully rousing and joyful ‘Hallelujah’ chorus which the choir sang so satisfyingly.
Part III discusses the afterlife and begins with ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’, a soprano solo guaranteed to send shivers up one’s spine, and Deitrich managed that gloriously. It also has ‘The trumpet shall sound’ supposedly a bass solo, but really a bass/trumpet duet that had audience members sighing with pleasure. The whole Oratorio wraps up with a chorus of ‘Worthy is the lamb that was slain’ and an amazing full threefold Amen. A long and very well deserved standing ovation showed all involved that they were appreciated. This was a totally professional performance, there was not a weak link in the entire evening, the audience loved it and as my neighbour said ‘Why go to Toronto when we have this here?’ The next Bach Elgar Choir concert is in April.