Philharmonic, soloists excel with crisp Baroque ‘Messiah’

by | Dec 16, 2012 | Review Post



Philharmonic, soloists excel with crisp Baroque ‘Messiah’

EditST--smilingThe Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra’s annual traversal of Handel’s oratorio The Messiah was accomplished Saturday night with great distinction at the Cathedral of Christ the King. The familiar music, under the inspired leadership of the orchestra’s music director, Scott Terrell, bloomed beautifully in the reverberant but clear acoustic of the cathedral’s sanctuary.

Terrell has proven himself to be a versatile conductor, but Baroque music seems to call forth his most joyous, extroverted work. Whereas his podium presence is often stiff and angular, he practically danced throughout this performance. None of his movement was superfluous, however, as he caught the orchestra up, too, in his delightfully fleet tempos and crisp rhythmic articulations. The Philharmonic, reduced to smaller Baroque proportions, played with beauty and authority, especially the solid continuo provided by cellist Benjamin Karp and harpsichordist Kelly Kuo, and the elegant trumpet playing by Chase Hawkins.

Terrell also assembled the best all-around quartet of soloists I have ever heard in a Lexington Messiah. The audience favorite would certainly have been the soprano Esther Heideman, who has a clear, piping voice of exceptional beauty and a dynamic stage presence, engaged and expressive even when she is not singing.

However, the other three soloists more than held their own. Jamie Van Eyck deployed her plummy, rich mezzo-soprano with robust sound throughout her range, and delivered the text with utmost clarity. The limpid, plush

voice of tenor Andrew Bidlack was gorgeously warm in reflective sections and moved with ease in fast passages. Baritone Sidney Outlaw wielded his powerful voice with burnished tone and impeccable phrasing. All four decorated the score with fresh and exciting ornamentation (the Baroque practice of adding one’s own flourishes to the written score, like improvisation in jazz), and their diction was exemplary: how wonderful and unusual to be able to understand all the words. This added mightily to the impression that they meant what they were singing.

The all-important chorus part was performed very well by the Lexington Chamber Chorale, directed by Gary L. Anderson. Last year, I complained of the ensemble’s slack tuning and muddy diction, but neither of those problems was in evidence this year. They sang with light, clear articulation of the notes and the words, comfortably riding Terrell’s quicksilver tempos and cleanly following his phrasing. The voices in this small ensemble tended to thin out at the top of their ranges, particularly the sopranos, but their commitment to enunciating the text and fulfilling Terrell’s interpretation of the score carried them to an excellent performance, easily the best I’ve heard from them.

If the seasonal onslaught of Messiahs can be accomplished with this high degree of excellence and artistry, the annual observances of this overdone work will certainly seem less onerous. And hopefully, Terrell will continue to program Baroque music — one of his best specialties, as I see it — in other parts of the concert season beyond Christmas.

Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.

(Published: December 16, 2012)

By Tedrin Blair Lindsay — Contributing Culture Critic

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