Saturday night was the first performance of the sixteenth season summit event, an all George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) program, presented at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral. The second performance is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at the same location.
The music for the evening included Handel: Water Music, Suite,"I know that my redeemer liveth," from Messiah, Coronation Anthems: "Zadok the priest" and "Let thy hand be strengthened," and the Dettingen Te Deum.
The first number was played by the 15 piece chamber orchestra and organ continuo, that also completed the ensemble for the rest of the program. It was polished, moving seamlessly from one dynamic (volume) level to another with a sense of improvisation -- this just seems right. The tonal color (timbral) contrast between winds, strings, horns and trumpets made for lively exchange of ascendancy, mostly in whole sections, sometimes in little snatches. The suite, suggested by its name, grew from a collection of dances, hence the movement names: . "Allegro in D major," "Alla Hornpipe in D major [Allegro deciso]" "Menuet in D major," "Lentement in D major," and "Bourée in D major." The suite eventually developed into the sonata form, the basis of the symphony. Many modern examples maintain dance names, particularly minuet and waltz. Water Music 2, was sublime.
"I know that my redeemer liveth," from Messiah, was sung with the grace and skill by soprano, Sarah Tannehill Anderson, who has participated in many programs on many stages in many places. She sang gracefully, intelligently, with little visible effort. Her softest, sweetest, pianissimo was easily heard in the balcony, above the orchestral accompaniment. Her voice remained supported, moving from range to range without perceptible breaks. If the only reason to include this piece from a later period of Handel's life than all the other music was to allow Ms Anderson to sing it, that was reason enough.
The two selected anthems written for royal coronations, "Zadok the priest" and "Let thy hand be strengthened," were well sung, continued the practice of moving between leveled dynamics. The entrances and exits were clear, balance was good, and voice levels were always within the range of good production. The first few measures reassured anyone present that a non-auditioned chorus, that rises from the ashes each summer, can, indeed have a polished, worry-free sound, given the right leadership and alums who return each June.
The major work of the evening was the Dettingen Te Deum, composed and presented in 1723 to celebrate the victory of British forces over the French, led by George II. The familiar text, that can be presented in a few minutes was extended (in true Handelian fashion) to 35 -38 minutes with repeated sections with much counterpoint, extended solos, trios and a quartet. The tempi of the evening being fairly relaxed, the work may have taken as long as forty or forty-two minutes.
Particularly noticeable were the correct interpretations of musical instructions: staccato notes reduce the length of notes by about one-half, followed by about the same period of silence. There is no implication of an accent to the shortened notes (a common fault) and the chorus sang the separated notes in a lovely, separated, legato line. The separated notes were connected by phrasing; the silent spaces were clear. The chorus of close to a hundred singers sounded, at times like a chamber choir, due to their precision. A couple of soft baritone entrances were marked by a sotto voce (whispered) sound instead of a soft full voice, which is seldom heard in Handel.
The four soloists, Soprano, Sarah Anderson; Mezzo-soprano, Kristee Haney; Tenor, David Adams; and Baritone Joshua Lawlor; were a well-matched quartet, and handled the solo and ensemble duties well. Joshua Lawlor had a very nice bass sound, if a little muffled, and a very bright baritone range, all of which was enjoyable to hear. Mr. Adams was not given much opportunity to flex his vocal muscles, but what he did was clear and natural, and the brightness he gave the ensembles was welcome. Ms Haney's mezzo was bright as in Verdi and Puccini, sweetly melodious, with a room filling resonance.
As nice as tonight's program was, it makes one anxious to hear the auditioned, memorized, Festival Singers this fall.