Review by Judith Caldwell
“Messiah” is usually performed at Christmas but Musikay offered it on the final Saturday and today of April. Handel’s original performance was in Dublin just after Easter and that timing makes more sense with a libretto largely concerned with Christ’s passion and resurrection. It is rather discomforting at Christmas when the birth of Jesus is celebrated to sing of Him being despised, rejected etc. ‘Messiah’ normally is performed by a large choir but Musikay had a small 12-member chorus, four soloists and a nine-piece orchestra – each one of them talented, well trained professionals, capable of making a wonderful sound separately and together.
The soloists were soprano Kira Braun, Madison Arsenault, alto; tenor Michael P. Taylor and bass Maciej Bujnowicz, with Musikay Artistic Director Stephane Potvin conducting. Messiah begins with an orchestral sinfonia which Maestro Potvin told us was a French overture to welcome the King, who arrived as it was being played. The story is then told in three parts – the birth and life of Jesus; the passion of Christ; and the Resurrection – by a combination of solos, recitatives, and choruses. The soaring tenor solo ‘Comfort ye’ begins the vocal Oratorio and Taylor sang it clearly, but was almost drowned by the orchestra in the dramatic parts thanks to an echoing acoustic in some sections. The tenor and alto seemed to fare worst, but in sections where they were only accompanied by the continuo they both sounded wonderful. The small number of musicians led to more contrast and colour than usual.
‘The people that walked in darkness’ was chillingly creepy although it ended with hope, and was followed by an emphatically joyful ‘For unto us a child is born’. The beautiful soprano solos and recitatives lead into a rousing ‘Glory to God’, and Part I ends with a truly lovely chorus of ‘His yoke is easy’. Part II is a very dramatic telling of the passion of Christ using texts from both Old and New Testaments. ‘He was despised’ is a sad alto solo; ‘All we like sheep, have gone astray’ is light and clear (we have happily gone astray), ‘He trusted in God’ has some back and forth bickering and tenor laughter, then the mood gets sadder, darker and angrier at the ‘raging of nations’, then to the total surprise of the resurrection as sung in the magnificent ‘Hallelujah’ chorus. Part III is joyful celebration beginning with the soprano solo ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’, the bass singer lets us know that ‘The trumpet shall sound’ and death is told it no longer has a sting.
The oratorio wraps up with a powerful chorus of ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ and an Amen that only Handel could have written – a big, choral, gorgeous over-the-top 3 minute Amen. Musikay will post information of their next season on their website.