Jim Lowe / Staff photo
Lisa Jablow conducts the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in Handel’s “Messiah” on Friday in Montpelier.
MONTPELIER — It could only be Handel’s “Messiah.”
Conductor Lisa Jablow added 45 minutes more of the oratorio to the Vermont Philharmonic’s annual holiday performance, and the nearly capacity audience Friday at St. Augustine’s Church remained through to the end — and remained riveted.
The audience included not only the area’s classical music lovers, but whole families, teens and seniors — a broad section of central Vermont — and these folks were visibly moved by this particularly fine two-hour-plus performance. (It will be repeated at 2 p.m. today at the Barre Opera House.)
“Messiah,” rather than a Christmas celebration, encompasses the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and more, and, uncut, lasts well more than three hours. The Vermont Philharmonic’s annual 90-minute holiday performances have traditionally involved only the Christmas section (Part 1), plus a few other popular movements, like the “Hallelujah Chorus” (actually more appropriate for Easter).
Jablow, the Philharmonic’s assistant conductor, led the community orchestra and chorus in all of Part 1, as well a substantial amount of Parts 2 and 4. And what glorious music it is.
The Philharmonic’s performance was easily its best in recent memory. Not only were the soloists of a high level, the orchestra and chorus sounded great. More important, Jablow led a truly spirited performance.
Among a fine group of soloists, bass Thomas Beard proved most consistent. Particularly in “The trumpet shall sound,” Beard employed his deeply beautiful voice with passion. He was matched all the way with the brilliance on trumpet by Ron Thompson, once a member of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.
Brilliant and expressive are the terms that best describe the performance of the tenor soloist Wayne Hobbs. Although he occasionally overpowered lines, his expressiveness in the recitative and arioso, “Thy rebuke has broken His heart” and “Behold, and see,” was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
The female soloists were less powerful but each had plenty to offer. Both the light-voiced soprano Lynda Schiller and deep-voiced mezzo-soprano Linda Radtke were occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, but both sang with lyrical beauty, particularly when they joined in “He shall feed his flock.”
The Vermont Philharmonic Chorus, created and directed by Jablow, was augmented by a bunch of non-auditioned “Messiah” lovers. So it was quite a feat for the chorus to sound so good. Although the choruses weren’t quite precise, the sound was rich and the expression was beautiful.
The instrumentalists of the Philharmonic, save for a very few rough passages, acquitted themselves particularly well. Not only did they respond sensitively to Jablow and soloists, their performance was full of the joy of this music.
If there is any criticism of Friday’s performance, other than the obvious inaccuracies — and there weren’t a lot — it was that Part 1 often lacked rhythmic incisiveness. This made it harder to differentiate between the movements and, in the particularly reverberant acoustics of St. Augustine’s, resulted in some muddy-sounding music making.
Finally, it is a tribute to Handel and the Vermont Philharmonic that Friday’s mixed audience, getting a bit more than it bargained for, responded with genuine enthusiasm.
The Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Lisa Jablow, will perform Handel’s “Messiah” at 2 p.m. today at the Barre Opera House. Tickets are $15, $12 seniors, $5 students; call 476-8188, or go online to www.vermontphilharmonic.org.
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