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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August,2 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 31
Bringing Messiah down to earth - A performance so good, you shouldn't wait for Christmas
Arts & Entertainment
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Bringing Messiah down to earth - A performance so good, you shouldn't wait for Christmas

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

HANDEL: THE MESSIAH
THEATER AN DER WIEN, VIENNA
(Unitel Classica; 2010)


The word about this Blu-ray disc of Handel's Messiah was that the performance was musically so fine that even with the video turned off it was well worth the price. You might find it distracting, or illuminating, also to watch an intelligent attempt to stage this most familiar oratorio as a series of dramatic scenes. Having often sung the tenor solos, and as a member of the chorus, I have clear conceptions of how this music might be performed. To say I found this concoction interesting would be gross understatement.

Musically, this is a live performance of the highest caliber. Jean-Christophe Spinosi leads the Ensemble Matheus and the Arnold Schoenberg Chor with sensitivity and a light touch that nonetheless packs a dramatic punch when needed. The superb DTS-HD sound of the disc makes the most of these qualities, and the camera work is also illuminating. The single, rather minor, problem for me is the accent of the continental singers, both soloists and the chorus - particularly with the articles 'a' and 'the.' I try to ignore it, yet that simple mistake keeps jerking me out of the musical moment.

MAGNIFICENT MULTI-TASKING
Devotees of conductor John Eliot Gardiner might find the singing of the Schoenberg Chor less than utterly precise, but this is a live performance in which the choristers also do a heap of dramatic action as well as some sign language. Their sound is lovely, perfectly blended, and also musical.

The soloists are excellent. Of particular interest are countertenor Bejun Mehta and bass Florian Boesch. Both not only sing with the highest musical intelligence but also command exceptional emotional intensity. Boesch's 'The people that walked in darkness' is downright spooky and at the same time dramatically powerful. His 'The trumpet shall sound' is another standout. Mehta is a wonder to behold; his concentration and incredible technique allow his attractive face complete expressive freedom. His alto sound is always beautiful, even in his comically drunken duet with tenor Richard Croft, 'O death, where is thy sting?'

In most scenes, dancer Paul Lorenger mimes the part of the dead person who clearly has committed suicide by slitting his wrists, taking the Christ figure to perhaps a yet new level of humanity. Some scenes are also accompanied by Nadia Kichler, a sign-language performer. She even signs I know not what during the most dramatic 'Amen' you will ever see.

However effective one finds this Blu-ray, the live audience at the Theater an der Wien gave this two-and-a-half-hour show a most enthusiastic reception. I highly recommend it.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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