By Edward Kliszus
Maestro Kent Tritle and Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall delivered an elegant, nonpareil performance expressing the radiant afflatus of Handel’s artistic and spiritual masterpiece Messiah. The exquisite sound of the orchestra with period bows performed by orchestral virtuosos and Tritle‘s attention to purity and detail ensured the finest manifestations of Handel’s choral intentions. The ensemble delightfully conveyed the confidence and security of Handel’s musical counterpoint to elaborate the vital significance of the text, melody, harmonic structures, and the composer’s notable departures from antiquarian pedantry into the dash, freedom, and spontaneity of musical evolution.
The vocal ensemble and soloists sang with choric distinction. Adherence to superb balance, blend, articulation, dynamics, and pitch defined their sheer virtuosity. Tritle led with his characteristic aplomb and expressive precision, braving magnificent tempos to masterfully convey Handel’s intentions through melismatic passages of contrapuntal mélange. All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray was but one example of a spirited tempo expressing Messiah’s excitement. A capella passages and the rich contributions of tonight’s soloists exuded the devotional rapture and eloquent power of Messiah.
This performance featured a continual procession of marvelous musical moments portrayed by tonight’s soloists and ensembles. Of particular regard was the magnificent The Trumpet Shall Sound, featuring bass-baritone Enrico Lagasca and trumpeter Maximilian Morel. Soprano Nola Richardson’s performance of I Know That My Redeemer Liveth was radiant, angelic, and exquisite, while her fluidity and command of extended melismatic passages were breathtaking. Contralto Heather Petrie’s magnificent performances of O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings of Zion and He Was Despised filled the hall with her rich eloquence, finish, and virtuosity. Tenor Joshua Blue’s fine performances of Comfort Ye and Every Valley expressed pathos, extending Handel’s genius into the next musical epoch.
Describing tonight’s performance as a triumph with well-earned approbation is befitting. Tonight’s Messiah met and exceeded listeners’ expectations consistent with its London premiere in 1740, when on April 13, the Dublin Journal described Messiah as a work “allowed by the greatest Judges to be the finest Composition of Musick that was ever heard.”
Messiah is arguably one of the most popular choral works in existence. Its success spawned stories of Handel’s divine intervention, a tear-soaked manuscript, and a 24-day product of furious creation. Poems of praise were written about the oratorio, and littérateurs discussed it exhaustively. So powerful was Handel’s influence on English music that oratorios and requiems became a preferred compositional venue to the point that George Bernard Shaw noted that “the British public takes a creepy kind of pleasure in Requiems.” In the latter part of the 19th century, Edward Elgar finally broke the trend to emerge as a world-renowned English composer who expanded his artistic reach well beyond requiems and oratorios.
Bravo to Maestro Kent Tritle, Musica Sacra, and tonight’s fine soloists. The writer looks forward to more recordings of Tritle’s continued superb work in this important venue.
Go to Music Sacra for information and tickets about the presentation of A Multitude of Voyces at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Tuesday, April 18. This concert features music by women composers of the past and present and J. S. Bach’s sublime motet Jesu, meine Freude.