messiah @ symphony hall

Edit: the whole performance on 02-Dec-2012 can be re-listened to >here.
ok, after re-hearing the CT’s “but who may abide..” take, i obliged to embed the contralto’s version in comment section.


red circle: td; blue rectangle: violin I and II; blue square: harpsichord; red oval: bass section of chorus

it’s that time of the year again, when messiah is popping up in the area like rabbits in the spring, H&H with 3 consecutive performances yesterday, today, and tomorrow (which will be broadcast live at 3PM EST on WGBH internet radio, for all fans of the Handel and Haydn orchestra / choir, Karina Gauvin, Sumner Thompson.) On thursday we had an electricity outage here for a couple hours that sent the whole city into darkness and yours truly into a spending spree, one of which a very spontaneous purchase to hear period instruments and Ms. Gauvin up close. If you have been here before, you might remember my reservation for Symphony hall. Haven’t been to a live concert in a while, i was really craving for the sound of the baroque violins and, especially because it’s the baroque violin, one has to be picky about where to sit to really get immersed in it. After some probing, I spotted the perfect seat.  It’s a bit under the stage, so i knew ahead of time what comes would _just_ be a load of violins (and soloists), exactly what the doktor ordered.

Christina Day Martinson, concertmaster

Christina Day Martinson, concertmaster

I’ve heard raving reviews of Karina Gauvin’s and couldn’t quite pass up this chance.  In that sense, i think in the Messiah, the soprano is _highly_ underused as we only sporadically get to hear Ms. Gauvin.  She has a veeeery rich and warm voice, one which i believed works very well in Symphony Hall.  Here is purely a matter of taste, she chose to use the vibrato throughout, and somehow I much prefer when she sang without it.  The highlight of the night for me is “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd”. I a bit confused as she shared the aria with the countertenor, is it because they’re all singing 3 consecutive nights in a big hall that they’re splitting duties? He took the first run, then she followed. The contrast is quite amazing as her voice rose above, hard to describe, just a silent hall with waarm high notes soaring high to a bed of violins underneath, breathtaking.  Here’s a take of Alice Coote and Ailish Tynan splitting the aria, oh how i wished she was also there last night.

I not sure if Ms. Nosky is still the concertmaster of the H&H, she wasn’t there last night, too bad, as I got the perfect seat.  Christina Day Martinson took the lead, from her first note, i knew exactly why i bought the ticket.  (Actually i was excited all day from the moment i purchased ticket.)  Being so up close, i was even more surprised how thin the H&H is, one can spot and hear instruments between the musicians’ legs!  Sitting slightly on the right was also perfect for several reasons: the deep violas, cellos, and SUPERB harpsichord was ALL on my right ears, along with bass section of chorus.  Given that they tend to get buried when the high notes from soprano section + violins taking over, sound partitioning was just perfect as those high notes were a bit farther away (just a bit really, I was 1 meter away from Sumner Thompson’s feet, merely 3m away from Karina Gauvin…)  Speaking of Sumner Thompson, i *love* his voice.  As for the CT, well, I knew it was a CT when purchasing tix, would have preferred a mezzo… but i read he’s one of the most sought after CT… and the tenor: i was sitting a bit too close to really enjoy his voice.. so not much to report.  The chorus was REALLLY great, loooove love the balance.

Somehow I love the first part much more than the 2nd, not sure because i’m more familiar or because the musical tone was really changing…. I’m also quite curious how the radio sound would be as my first impression was that the violin section wasn’t as warm as I had hoped, which I entirely attributed to sitting a bit “under” the stage.  Altogether, a very pleasant evening.  only minor quibble to the standing up during Halleluja ?! Might just be me, but given how regliously-riched Messiah is, and how much i was hoping to just enjoy the evening without having to be reminded of its religious content, the mass action sort of serving as a bullying in-your-face reminder that we shall bring religion to you whether you like it or not…



L to R: Karina Gauvin (soprano), Daniel Taylor (countertenor), Harry Christophers (H&H artistic director/conductor), James Gilchrist (tenor), Sumner Thompson (baritone)

(ps- ok, just read the program note, this “standing or not standing” is a “tradition” dated back long time ago… take it then as my knee-jerking reaction dated back to years of being in church where people stand up en masse… totally tossed me off my comfort hiding zone amongst the baroque violins..)


About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

17 Responses to messiah @ symphony hall

  1. earwormopera says:

    I’ve never really liked the “standing up during the Hallelujah” chorus thing either – it seems disruptive, and as a non-religious person, I prefer to just enjoy the music.

    • Eyesometric says:

      The trouble is that if one person in the audience does stand then “all we like sheep” feel obliged. The flock aria is actually written for the two voices with the sop singing a fourth higher giving a different feel to the music.
      Sounds like an excellent concert. Did you like Harry Christophers?

      • thả diều says:

        yes, i like Harry Christophers’ take, thought i must admit am not as familiar with Messiah as other pieces, and i was more in awe with the violins coming directly at me. and am currently listening to another bit with Ms. Gauvin and violins, reallly like. and a thought immediately comes to mind: she’d be soooo perfect as Alcina, doesn’t she already sing that in some recordings?

        ah, thanks Eyes, after seeing that concert in the clip, i also got the impression it’s the “norm”. I’m only surprised because the various recordings on YT I’ve seen, different voices were used for same aria (such as “But who may abide” with my all-time favorite take from Hillary Summers and yet sang on clip by the bass)…

        ok, back to ears then, a 4th, what’s dat? how far is Alice Coote’s take to the soprano’s in the clip above? it sounds really wonderful in the concert.

        After re-listening to current broadcast, am also confirming my impression that i enjoy much more Karina Gauvin’s bits without too much vibrato (heard her 2 arias in part 3, first has vibrato, 2nd not much and reminds me somehow of Alcina!)

        oh, and just heard how “Gauvin” is pronounced, the french way, not english.

        • Eyesometric says:

          The 4th is literally 4 tones higher in this instance so AC is singing in the key of F and the sop sings in the key of Bflat. Of course there are versions where one singer does the whole thing

          My favourite chorus is “Surely … “, and yours?

          • Eyesometric says:

            Darn it – that was meant to be a link not a posted video!

          • thả diều says:

            that’s ok, ms. Bonney definitely is good in embedded mode 😉 (though if u want to avoid that, pad it with the ahref writing should do . in the spirit of embedding, i really like this one, which i’ve posted b4, probably exactly a yr ago, starting at 04m46s , it seems she takes it both in high version? actually think i like this recording b/c they tune the whole thing lower (at least to my ears)

        • stray says:

          Gauvin is an excellent Alcina, imho, though I think she’s only officially made one recording (the Curtis one) where she sings Morgana. Unofficially, however…:-)

          • thả diều says:

            you got me searching 🙂 , though it hard to just listen to 1 aria coz you don’t really get the emotional flow and don’t know how it was before she got to this point… and why is it I kept having this image of alcina standing talllll in the darkness as the curtain comes smashing down…

          • stray says:

            Ooh, good find! The other one she did that year was Montreal. I’d say judging anyone’s Alcina by just one aria is plain unfair, but fortunately there are solutions to that problem in both these instances.

          • thả diều says:

            and while we’re on that subject, i quite like her take here to ombra pallide, quite a feisty alcina, to rather swiftly tempo. not sure which yr that was but surely a live performance.

          • stray says:

            I think that’s also Beaune 2005.

  2. Eyesometric says:

    Dawson does indeed do the whole aria in one key but it is the same key as the second half of other examples and they are all at Baroque pitch. If it sounds lower it could be the timbre of Dawson’s voice which has more than a hint of mezzo or it could be the tempo which is less laboured/indulgent than the Bonney example?
    ps. I see the optional snow is returning to WordPress Land 🙂

    • thả diều says:

      yes, probably, which is also likely why i really like her voice . i did notice it moves at a more swiftly pace than BB’s. am curious whether the (my?) brain always goes automatic flippant (think i meant resistant) when hearing things at much slower speed… all the more reasons we should listen to things in at least 10 different versions to not get fixated…
      ps- yes, first i noticed on yours, now it’s snowing on mine too. on yours i thought it was cool, on mine am still debating but a bit on annoyed side coz i didn’t order it 🙂

      • Eyesometric says:

        You can turn it off, if you want, in settings.
        It looks good on my Garanca page on the photo with the fur hood.

      • Eyesometric says:

        There’s another one coming soon on radio 3 with Delphine Galou – will post details.

  3. Tove S says:

    I went to a rather amateur Messiah in a local baroque church. The period instrument ensemble was really great, surprisingly great, and they’d hired a good soprano for the tricky bits but the choir including most of the soloists were just ok. Also it was not the full thing, just selections, and they’d skipped my favourite aria which is this:
    I see why though, as it’s really long and slow and they had no really strong mezzo/alto (too bad, they could have hired one instead of the soprano!) They also skipped this one although they had a soprano who could sing it:
    All in all, it was still a very nice experience, put me in the right Christmas mood.

  4. Benny I. Greene says:

    While most violins have four strings, there are violins with as many as seven strings. The extra strings on such violins typically are lower in pitch than the G-string; these strings are usually tuned to C, F, and B flat. If the instrument’s playing length, or string length from nut to bridge, is equal to that of an ordinary full-scale violin; i.e., a bit less than 13 inches (330 mm), then it may be properly termed a violin. Some such instruments are somewhat longer and should be regarded as violas. Violins with five strings or more are typically used in jazz or folk music.

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