glorious “messiah” with boston baroque

Come to Jordan Hall and Boston Baroque will tell you the story of Händel’s Messiah! I read in the program notes that Boston Baroque has been performing the work since 30 years or something… but finally i made it to the first on period instruments at intimate Jordan Hall.. and this is it, they’ll be on my calendar next year! At the risk of sounding like a broken record, i hear things I have NEVER heard before in Messiah! Either i’m getting used to hearing super religious music in English, or it’s the superb quality+clarity of the orchestra and chorus that made one so impressed you can’t do anything else but focus on them, a true dedication to music making.

The night started fantastically with the baroque violins and tenor Nicholas Phan. Orchestra began rather slow, but with the “slow, listen, because we want to tell you something in great detail” type. I was wondering what it was that drew my attention immediately to the start.. until it became obvious: Nicholas Phan meant every word he sang! Very expressive telling, the sort just from the tone + intensity you have 3D shapes unfolding before your eyes.. and though not large in stature, he made a perfect image of a passionate + effective pastor telling a bigger-than-life story of the coming Messiah, with glorious violins building up bringing home his message. Fantastic detail. While i at it, a bit more about his singing: I was actually a bit worried that he might pushed too hard, sort of what I occasionally heard in this version of Ariodante… there’s a great fine line between effective story-telling and over-emoting (newly learned word thanks to ToveS), and he did it just right, like in the pitch dark with oil-lamp reflecting dancing shadows, and the lion tip-toeing before s.p.r.i.n.t.i.n.g. (add coloratura for extra effect) JUMPING plunging claws into its prey. Just fantastic!
One of our favorite Cherubino’s was also there, Kate Lindsey, singing some of my favorite Händel’s passages.. Last year it was a CT so i didn’t quite pay much attention how much time she would get. The voice is quiiiite interesting. Quite warm, very flexible, but interesting.. when i found the right word, will update here. As the evening progress, I hear her muuuuch better when I don’t look, which is really annoying because she’s a looovely person to look at :-).. but it’s just due to my seat on extreme left and it seems i heard muuuch better on the left ear. I did sit there debating whether it’s only a psychological effect that we hear better when we don’t see, but i convinced in this case it’s really the seat location + my ears… but altogether, a bit annoying i had to look away 😉 The mezzo range in general though is quite in same range with ALL instruments so one really has to pay extra attention to get the sound clear… There was one part in 2nd half when she had a duet with Nicholas Phan, at first I worried his sound would cover hers.. but to my delighted left ears, sound came in perfect balance (also helped he was further away).. though due to looking away and focusing on their singing, i can’t remember which part of orchestra was playing… In term of shaping of music phrases, I enjoyed both hers and his better than bass’ and soprano’s.

So, onto orchestra, FAAAAAAAATASSSSSStic sound!!! sooo much details, such clarity, great precision! For some reasons all my tix had been on the left balcony overlooking violin 1 (and Ms. Christina Day Martinson’s) back.. think i mentioned once her body movement (and entire violin section’s really) just incompletely in-tune with the music, you hear everything, all the notes were played with intention and equal attention, not one is lost. The beloved woodwind section was reduced to only 2 oboes hidden from my view.. I was debating of switching balcony at intermission to other extreme side to get a view of them.. and gladly didn’t.. otherwise would have missed the GREEEAT trumpets!!

Speaking of trumpet, the bass’ aria.. Actually for both bass and soprano the intake of sound seemed to work better when I focused attention on the orchestra instead of them (for different reason than with Ms. Lindsey). This is because they sounded a bit more as part of the many instruments instead of “the one”, which is fine, because the orchestra is where one should look at. all 6 or so violins, and particularly the whole violoncello section which accompanied the bass in his trumpet aria. Simply fantastic.

Lastly, the chorus!!! they should be the first to get mentioned… By far the best chorus I’ve heard either at Jordan Hall or at Symphony Hall since my move back here. It’s on the smaller size, which I think is PERFECT (and in perfect balance with the small orchestra). GREAT precision! and the soft singing, deterministically soft, with purpose! They had a biig section in 2nd part duetting, asking + responding, where you really hear all sections interweaving with clarity and precision (instead of meshing into a mass of blurry chaos and ending fractions of second out of sync..and i always hear Eyes’ comment in back of my head “not the most disciplined chorus!”) It sounds picky (?) but I’m guessing precision and clarity is not easy to achieve in large chorus unless you get a high quality professional one? How can you make 5-10 sound like ONE synchronized voice? A tiny bit of tone difference, intensity difference, fraction of seconds off, and the sound is already blurred… especially in soft and soft-to-forte (another opportunity for me to rave Nicholas Phan transition from soft-to-strong and drop back to soft, gets one eye-wide opened intently listening! same with the chorus but his effect was much stronger.)

In summary, it was a night of glorious music in an almost (99\%) packed Jordan Hall. Super strong line up on all fronts from Boston Baroque. Felt like i was listening to Messiah for the first time. They are playing again today (Saturday, 14-dec-2013) at 7pm. If you are in the area and debating, you should go. I sat there debating if i should come again… (I would if not for the current sore-throat + combo of racing to leave town, but still have some 20hrs to decide.. if I do go again, promise i’ll take my better camera than this crappy phone with blurry pix…)

(ps- of course, i’ll take opportunity to post again for the 4th time my favorite aria…)

(ps2- the soloists sit just in front of the chorus and moved up and down to the front when singing.. which i think works great as it doesn’t block the audience from seeing fantastic Martin Pearlman on harpsichord or string sections… (while we’re on Martin Pearlman, SUPERB tempo + conducting + directing orchestra and chorus!!) but for the alto’s first aria (“But who may abide…”), as well as duet of alto + soprano “He shall something… flock…”, I curious why the singers don’t just stay put until all finished singing so as to not get disrupted.. especially in “But who may abide..”, the string music to start is VERY short and Kate Lindsey first had to wait for the bass to walk down, then she made it up front just in time to sing… and it sounded quite rushed as well as not quite in tune in some parts of the aria — could just be my shot ears, though we had discussion once in Munich that if _I_ can hear the music off, it IS off 🙂 )