Handel’s “Messiah” is a long-cherished tradition at the Seattle Symphony, and one that takes a different form every year. The 2017 version has the Symphony’s first female “Messiah” conductor and a first-rate cast of soloists — and possibly the most enthusiastic of audiences.
Handel’s “Messiah” is a long-cherished tradition at the Seattle Symphony, and one that takes a different form every year. New and different soloists and conductors; changes in instrumentation in the orchestra; cuts and trims in the score that remove certain arias and choruses.
The 2017 version has the Symphony’s first female “Messiah” conductor and a first-rate cast of soloists — and possibly the most enthusiastic of audiences. After the excellent tenor soloist finished the first aria (the beloved “Every valley shall be exalted”), the applause rang out, and continued to do so after nearly every segment in what is usually a seamless oratorio performance. (The clear body language of conductor Ruth Reinhardt finally had its effect after intermission, when most of the applause between movements stopped.)
To be fair, Aaron Sheehan’s lyrical and nimble “Every valley” was more than worthy of showstopping applause. So were the other three soloists, each with highly distinctive voices and solid command of these tricky arias. The baritone, Will Liverman, sang with clean articulation and a beautiful timbre; his interpretations had a resounding authority. Mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti displayed a wide range with imaginative ornamentation and a clear sense of drama, particularly in the affecting aria “He was despised.” The highflying soprano, Deanna Breiwick, tellingly conveyed the meaning of the words as well as the music, and rose to some spectacular high notes (you don’t usually hear a high C in “Rejoice greatly”). All four soloists sang with great expressive freedom, in a score that calls for lots of drama and interpretive impact.
Seattle Symphony presents Handel’s ‘Messiah’
Ruth Reinhardt conducting; Benaroya Hall, Friday evening, Dec. 15. Repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17 ($25-$89, 206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
Reinhardt’s energy and exuberance infused the performance, supporting the soloists admirably and cuing key entrances. At some points the Seattle Symphony Chorale could have used a little more cuing, however, particularly when the singers were required to rise and then reseat again. Prepared by director Joseph Crnko, the Chorale sang with clarity, accuracy and considerable gusto.
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Reinhardt chose some particularly brisk tempos, but nothing sounded hurried or rushed. The crisp articulations in the chorus and orchestra made everything clear — the words as well as the music. The “Messiah” has humor as well as pathos, and Reinhardt’s bouncy take on “All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray” underscored this witty chorus admirably. The orchestra was fleet-fingered and responsive, with some fine performances by continuo players: particularly Simon James (concertmaster), Nathan Chan (cello), and Joseph Kaufman (bass), with trumpeter Alexander White a standout in “The trumpet shall sound.”
Not surprisingly, the audience found much to cheer in the performance. And during the “Hallelujah Chorus,” it was possible to hear several audience members singing merrily along. This was a “Messiah” to inspire some hallelujahs.