Glover leads Music of the Baroque in a mostly admirable “Messiah”

Sat Apr 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Jane Glover led Music of the Baroque in Handel's "Messiah" Friday night at the Harris Theater.

For all its titanium-like popularity, Handel’s Messiah has become so inextricably associated with the Christmas season that performances at other times of the year almost seem a bit foreign.

Yet Easter is arguably a more appropriate time of the religious calendar for Handel’s evergreen oratorio on the birth, life and passion of Christ, and Music of the Baroque’s presentation of Messiah opened at the Harris Theater Friday night to a packed house.

Music director Jane Glover was on the podium last December for Bach’s epic Christmas Oratorio, one of MOB’s finest nights and a highlight of the music year.

Friday’s Messiah was not quite on the same level. In her belated first Chicago concert of Handel’s oratorio, Glover directed an admirable performance with some fine moments but one that felt like a work in progress, adding up to something less than the sum of its constituent parts.

Part of the problem was the conductor’s tendency to focus on scoring and dynamic details, often at the expense of dramatic engagement and consistent forward momentum. Glover’s tempos also lingered too long, especially in some of the arias, which led to some undeniably stodgy moments in Part One.

The singing of the MOB Chorus was fluent and polished—the sopranos, again, especially inspired— but the ensemble also proved expressively bland at times and fitfully fuzzy in enunciation. Like most everything else in this performance, they improved after intermission,  singing with greater urgency and dramatic focus. But with just 26 members, the choral sound was lacking in weight, sounding diffuse in the vast venue.

Even with one late substitution, the quartet of soloists was largely excellent. Having Elizabeth Futral back for this Messiah was luxury casting indeed, and the soprano delivered consistent gleaming tone and agility with a buoyant Rejoice greatly and an affecting I know that my redeemer liveth.

Jennifer Rivera was a late replacement for Catherine Wyn-Rogers, which likely accounted for some of the mezzo-soprano’s tentative moments Friday night. He was despised could have used a more focused tragic expression but Rivera mostly proved a sensitive and responsive soloist.

Tenor John McVeigh was a dramatically involved presence, fiery in Thou shalt break them and conveying the pathos of Thy rebuke hath broken his heart. Christopheren Nomura’s baritone lacks the ballast for the bass arias, but he sang with passion and expressive commitment, apart from getting lost momentarily in The trumpet shall sound. Soloists were clearly encouraged to employ ornamentation and grace notes, though the results sometimes sounded a bit out of period.

Glover drew lithe, refined and incisive playing from the orchestra with Barbara Butler’s clarion trumpet playing first class, as always. The entire Harris Theater audience stood for the rousing Hallelujah chorus and, to their credit, not a single premature clap disturbed the silence afterward.

Handel’s Messiah will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. baroque.org; 312-551-1414.

Posted in Performances


One Response to “Glover leads Music of the Baroque in a mostly admirable “Messiah””

  1. Posted Apr 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm by DK

    To the reviewer: Strange that you should acknowledge Messiah as having been associated with the Christmas season, as Handel composed and performed it as a Lenten work. Aside from that, I agree that the venue is too large for a small ensemble such as ours. Had you been on stage with the chorus, you would have ridiculed us for exaggerating diction to a point of absurdity.

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