On December 16th and 17th, the Los Angeles Master Chorale presented Handel’s “Messiah” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, with the latter evening being a sing-along. This review is based on the December 16th show.
The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Artistic Director, and in this case, the esteemed conductor of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” Grant Gershon, was ever the consummate leader on stage, directing his orchestra, 48 choral singers, and four vocal soloists with noble intention. And flourished he did, aided by his inimitable musical team, earning a deafening and sustained applause from a 2,200-capacity audience following the two-hour-and-thirty-five-minute performance on December 16th.
For the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Handel’s “Messiah” has become somewhat of a Christmastime tradition spanning nearly the last four decades, evocatively capturing the ceaseless energy of the English oratorio of 1741 – with libretto by Charles Jennens — which resurged the career of the German-born Handel who had hitherto composed Italian operas. Incorporating scriptural elements of the Old and New Testaments – though mostly secularized as it has become — the British Baroque masterpiece is comprised of three parts (denoted as Part the First, Second, and Third). The first illustrates Jesus’ nativity and beckoning amid darkness and light, the second underscores the faith and sacrifice of His message, and the third exultantly highlights His reclamation.
With a veritable sea of the highest caliber of talent on stage, inclusive of tenor Robert Norman, baritone Steve Pence, mezzo-soprano Jessie Shulman, and soprano Alannah Garnier, there was a vast range of aural splendor to be found among a patterned simplicity – adhering to Handel’s format – to thus maximize audience engagement and the transcendental, out-of-body chills that were to be felt by the show’s end.
The first soloist of the night was Norman, who has a voice that echoes with a pleasing bountifulness. His aria of “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted” in Part the First brimmed with joy and contentedness; and his recitative of “He that dwelleth in Heaven” as well as his aria of “Though shalt break them” in Part the Second lay in the air with the reminder of a kind-hearted forgiveness, inlaid with a staunch solemnity.
Pence’s sturdy vocalizations and impressive runs suitably lent themselves to the dwelling and darkened tones present in his aria in Part the First’s “But who may abide.” In Part the Third, the simmering ominousness in his voice then gave way to the equanimity of a confident storyteller (“Behold, I tell you a mystery”), before transforming into a walloping tidal wave that triumphed like an epiphany of empowering clarity, just as the trumpet (sounded by Ryan Darke) did, in the aria, “The trumpet shall sound.”
Similarly, Shulman demonstrated her vocal versatility, initially with her soft, angelic portrayal of Part the First’s recitative of “Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” which subsequently became inflamed with anger in Part the Second’s aria of “He was despised,” wherein Jesus’ sacrifice in the face of prejudice entails Him being unceremoniously cast out.
Additionally, Garnier’s resonant and resplendent timbre proved to be fruitful in reinforcing the buoyant enlightenment handsomely extant within Handel’s oratorio. Part the First culminated with her delightfully expressive rendition of “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,” and Part the Third was infused with added conviction as a result of her sonorously moving aria of “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
Nonetheless, as impeccable as the soloists were, they beautifully supplemented but dare not compete with the sheer strength-by-numbers mellifluence of the titanic chorus — its women dressed in sparkling black and its men in tuxedos. Their sweeping and sweet vocal strokes intersected each other and consequently became unified into a jubilant whole in Part the First, beginning with “And the glory of the Lord,” the horn-accentuated “Glory to God in the highest,” and lastly, the reverberating “His yoke is easy,” which was reminiscent of a full moon glowing hopefully over a sinned land.
In Part the Second, the definitive urgency in the chorus’ voices was raised, just as the stakes were, in “Surely He hath borne our griefs” and “He trusted in God” prior to the renowned “Hallelujah,” which saw all attendees on their feet. Finally, in Part the Third, any remnant of plaintive foreboding fittingly became expunged with “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Amen,” as Theresa Dimond, on drums, emphasized the change in vocal scenery, where a faithful serenity, fueled by unmitigated elation, ultimately shined over the last pall of doubt, granting indefinite peace.
Overall, the success of the performance is not just a credit to the source material, but the expertise of Gershon and company, who capped off the evening on the highest possible note, eclipsing even “Hallelujah.” It speaks to the enduring legacy of Handel and the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s admirable capacity to pull off something so intensely spiritual yet do so with effortless ease.
For more information about upcoming performances by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, please visit lamasterchorale.org