Most people know Handel’s Messiah for its spectacular Hallelujah chorus, associating it with Christmastime. But Messiah is so much more. The wonderful baroque style and the soaring vocals make this piece a much deserved classic and Seattle Symphony’s rendition of this stirring classic is beautiful.
Over the course of a few weeks in the summer of 1741, George Frideric Handel composed one of the most brilliant choral pieces of all time. His oratorio, Messiah, has been a favorite piece for nearly 270 years since. The Messiah tells the life story of Jesus Christ. Messiah is an oratorio, which is basically a narrative opera, designed to be played in a concert setting. The oratorio is broken down into three parts. Part the First, is the prophesying and birth of the Messiah. This part is the baroque style at its best. Stunning flourishes, and notes held for impossible lengths of time are characteristic of this part. As stunning as this part may be, it's almost an appetizer to the real meat of the piece, in Part the Second and Part the Third. Part the Second describes the hardships of Christ and includes some stunning music. “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto his sorrow” is beautifully poignant piece. At the same time, all of this pain and sadness is juxtaposed by the famous Hallelujah chorus, with it’s soaring jubilation. It is remarkable that after such an incredible piece of music as the Hallelujah chorus, Handel could continue onto a third part and not lose any of the splendor that he just created. Indeed, Part the Third holds the most beautiful piece, “The trumpet shall sound,” a rich harmony between bass voice and solo trumpet. And at the very end is the Amen chorus which is just as spectacular, if not more so, than the famed Hallelujah chorus.
The interplay between the strings-heavy symphony and the melodious voices of the Seattle Symphony Chorale is soft and smooth. I particularly enjoyed bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin’s performance. Austin’s ebony tones lend a richness and weight to the first part, and continue to astound in the third part with “The trumpet shall sound.” A real vocal highlight is Soprano Dominique Labelle. Labelle, while effortlessly trilling the baroque pieces, has a weight behind it. She has a vocal clarity which punctuates all of the humming strings. Then of course there is the man himself. Gerard Schwarz is fascinating to watch conduct. He has a thousand and one gestures and expressions to convey his meaning to the symphony, the solo artists, and the chorus.
Although Messiah is a religious piece, if we can look beyond that, the oratorio is incredibly stirring and uplifting. Handel’s absolutely incredible music, and Seattle Symphony’s lovely rendition is sure to touch all people.
Through December 19th