They’ve done it again!
Following a packed performance of Elijah, Chorus Niagara filled alluring Partridge Hall for a sold-out performance of Handel’s Messiah.
This Messiah featured the 100 voices of Chorus Niagara, the Talisker Players performing on period instruments, plus four accomplished soloists ‒ Elizabeth Polese, soprano; Lillian Brooks, mezzo-soprano; Jacques-Olivier Chartier, tenor and Joel Allison, bass-baritone.
Although originally written for Easter, Messiah has become a Christmas musical rite of passage, the Baroque-era oratorio continuing to thrill listeners 250 years long after the composer’s death.
Jonathan Kandell in Smithsonian Magazine recalls that Handel’s superstar status at the time was not the only draw for the first performance of Messiah in Dublin.”Many also came to glimpse the contralto, Susannah Cibber, then embroiled in a scandalous divorce…The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line: ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.’ Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of chorus, until, near the midway point, Cibber intoned: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” So moved was the Rev. Patrick Delany that he leapt to his feet and cried out: “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!”
That’s the remarkable power of this musical gem. Each time I hear a Messiah chorus sing, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” with Isaiah’s Biblical commanding lines that follow, the addictive sounds mixed in waves of four-part harmony ‒ soprano, alto, tenor, bass ‒ male and female voices blending, alternating, building, augmenting, comparing and contrasting, ‒ each note emerging from a series of successive refrains, energized ‒ the incredible juxtapositions bring moisture to my eyes as I think back upon our own two babes and the boundless potential entailed in birth. In short, Handel rocks my world!
Keeping it all together is the talented Robert Cooper, a marvelous musical mid-wife and a joy himself to watch as he vigorously directs with poignant gestures ‒ hands, arms, head and vivid facial expressions ‒ magisterially unifying the performers, setting the tempo, executing clear preparations and beats, all the while listening critically to the emergent shape and sound of his talented ensemble.
Cooper’s four Canadian soloists are superb. Elizabeth Polese (soprano) is an alumna of the University of Toronto. Last to sing, her voice is as angelic as her music. Lillian Brooks made her professional debut in February 2015 as a soloist with Chorus Niagara. Her rendition of “He was despised…” was riveting. Jacques-Olivier Chartier’s (tenor) sweet voice gets the music off to a great start with “Comfort ye my people.” He is a graduate of the Université de Montréal. Canadian Bass-Baritone Joel Allison is a University of Ottawa grad whose “Why do the nations so furiously rage together” is both powerful and crisp.
The Talisker Players are gifted musicians in residence at Massey College, University of Toronto, a unique ensemble of instrumentalists dedicated to collaborating with singers. They excelled throughout the evening, and David Sandall on the harpsichord and Lynne Honsberger at the organ were superb.
What’s next up for Chorus Niagara? The Farthest Shore, A Celtic Celebration is scheduled for Saturday, March 4 at 7.30 PM. It’s the Niagara premiere of Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s work.
Mealor gained international attention with his beautiful anthem for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine.
This is an ambitious choral work for soloists, chorus, children chorus, brass quintet and organ, based on an Anglesey folk tale about a boy who was washed ashore in a storm. If you have not yet been to St. Catharine’s gorgeous Partridge Hall, plan to attend. Let’s hope that it’s another sell-out performance!
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Photo by CN.