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Their Sound is Gone Out

Mondzak Performing Arts Center
12/18/2010 -  
Georg Friedrich Händel: The Messiah, HWV 56
Gina Watson-Powell (soprano), Suzanne Chadwick (mezzo-soprano), John Day (tenor), Bryan Jackson (bass)
The Washington Civic Opera Chorus, The Landon Symphonette, Richard Weilenmann (conductor)

B. Jackson, G. Watson-Powell. R. Weilenman,
S. Chadwick, J. Day (© Micaele Sparacino)

The Landon Symphonette, celebrating its 20th Season under Founder and Conductor Richard Weilenman, has made a holiday tradition of presenting Handel’s Messiah. Of the very many performances of The Messiah throughout the Washington, D. C. metropolitan area during Christmastide, this is always one of the very best. I was particularly attracted to attend this year for two reasons: the production boasted four of Washington’s finest soloists, and it is the final season of Maestro Weilenman as Conductor of the Landon Symphonette. I was not disappointed.

The Washington Civic Opera Chorus was amplified with several Church and Community Choirs as well as friends of the Symphonette, who enjoy singing in the chorus. They were exceedingly well prepared and sang with rhythmic gusto and dynamic finesse. The orchestra was even better, playing with an unusually fine string sound, especially in the violins. The oboes gave a nice, warm sound, while the trumpets and timpani played with clarity and precision. Principal trumpeter Andrew Schuller made an excellent impression along with bass Bryan Jackson in the rousing aria “The Trumpet Shall Sound”. The harpsichord was somewhat of disappointment due to its position in the orchestra. It should have been better to have placed it in the front row. Being situated as it was however, behind the cellos and flanked by the trumpets, it simply could not compete, and remained largely inaudible throughout most of the performance.

Tenor John Day sang with a lovely lyric tone, and some unusual ornaments and cadenzas.
Interpolating a High C into the final cadence of the opening aria “Every Valley” could be an overly operatic, toxic mistake. However Mr. Day’s insertion of the note into an excellent baroque style cadenza made for an exciting and surprising conclusion. The “rough places” being not so “plain”! I have always felt for the tenor in this oratorio, as he must sing the first aria without any warm-up, and then sit, “twiddling” his thumbs through the rest of the Christmas section. He made a welcomed return during the Passion section.

Bass Bryan Jackson was simply magnificent! His large and resonant voice, coupled with his superb diction and engaging singing, made for a great Handel performance. He has an excellent technique for runs and scale passages, and made an exciting impression during the recitative “…and I will shake the heavens and the earth”. He delivered the famous aria “For he is like a refiner’s fire” with brilliance and passion. It is easy to understand why Maestro Weilenman has invited him back, year after year, to sing The Messiah.

Mezzo-soprano Suzanne Chadwick gave excellent renditions of “O Thou that tellest Good Tidings to Zion” and “He shall feed His Flock”. She sounded more like a contralto to me than a mezzo as her bottom passaggio (break) seemed to lie between C and Bb rather than E and F, which is the mezzo’s break. She also sang with a rather “throaty” sound, although she had excellent legato phrases and a fine “Handelian” style.

Soprano Gina Watson-Powell did not appear until after the intermission. She really woke up the audience with her clarion dramatic-soprano voice. Looking quite glamorous in a fabulous concert gown, she sang some of the most difficult music in this oratorio with ease and aplomb. Like tenor John Day, she employed a good deal of baroque ornamentation, variations, and well-articulated trills. She was thrilling in the melismas of “Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion” and somewhere in the second half of this aria she let fly with a trumpeted High Bb that completely dazzled the audience. The beauty of her voice really shone in the aria “Come unto Him all Ye that Labor”, where she produced a mellifluous and golden tone. It was indeed striking in its loveliness.

Maestro Weilenman is an “old hand” at this. His interpretation of The Messiah is from the “old school”, and is similar in style to that of Sir Malcolm Sargent or Sir Adrian Boult. He eschews the extremely brisk tempos of Christopher Hogwood and the like in favor of broader tempos and a more reverent, spiritual tone. Conductors just get better with age. I hate to see the Maestro lay down his baton with the Landon Symphonette. Hopefully Washington audiences will have the privilege of seeing him on podiums elsewhere for many more seasons to come.

Micaele Sparacino



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