"Immaculate 'Messiah' Perfect for Easter"
By D.S. Crafts
The Albuquerque Journal
March 25, 2012
Isn't Handel's "Messiah" a Christmas piece? That's been the tradition
for a long while, and it seems to suit well the yuletide spirit – at the
least the first third of the work. Actually, the premiere performance was on
April 13, 1742, in Dublin, Ireland, celebrating the Easter season.
Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico is reviving that original
context in its superlative production this weekend at St. John's
Cathedral. The group begins the work with Part Two, essentially
the Easter story. Music Director Maxine Thévenot has
assembled an outstanding group of players and singers alike.
Chorus, orchestra and soloists all come together brilliantly,
creating an event that will not easily be forgotten. Frankly,
I can do no better than to give this performance my highest
Thévenot's direction invariably shapes the music with
illuminating and often profound effect, sculpting each phrase
with intelligence and understanding. There is an immaculate
precision to every gesture, never failing to miss Handel's
inspired sense of tone painting. With four to seven singers
on a part, Polyphony sounds like a much larger ensemble given
the rampant enthusiasm of the singers in the resonant acoustic
atmosphere of the cathedral.
Beginning with a relaxed tempo in the opening chorus, "Behold
the Lamb of God," there was a luxuriant sound to the group,
solid throughout its range from stratospheric sopranos to robust
basses. One can easily become mesmerized in the opulent sonorities.
The "All we, like sheep" chorus had a joyous bounce
to it that I have never before heard either in concert or recording.
Not waiting for anyone to remember to stand for the Hallelujah
chorus, Thévenot turned to the audience and directed
us to rise, commemorating the king standing at attention in
awe of the composer – just as it should be. The sound
which then majestically filled the cathedral was well worth
This production is also unusual in that all the vocal soloists
are men. The four distinct vocal colors create a marvelous
variety of sound. Eric S. Brenner tops the four as male soprano
(higher than a countertenor). His aria "How beautiful
are the feet" glowed with an angelic reverence. Countertenor
Patrick Fennig takes the alto part beginning with a heartfelt
intensity of smooth, effortless, bittersweet tones in the aria "He
gave his back to the smiters."
Javier Gonzales is clearly a young star on the rise. His bold,
arresting tenor gave a palpable drama to "Thou shalt break
them," and alternatively there was a shining lyricism
to "Behold and see."
Baritone Edmund Connolly, a Londoner recently moved to New
Mexico, sings the bass part, impressively accommodating the
treacherous passage work in his lower register. "Why do
the nations so furiously rage" came forth with brilliant
color and tonal character.
The small chamber orchestra, too, played with the same precision
and style as the vocalists, with several excellent solos.
By all means make every effort to attend today's repeat performance
at 3 p.m. in St. John's Cathedral.