There’s something inherently compelling about Handel‘s Messiah that inspire its annual, sometimes semi-annual performances in English and German all over the western world.
There are perhaps several reasons for this perennial popularity, but at its core the soul-stirring music and lofty message resonate with the human spirit, giving it wings to apprehend the infinite.
The Amarillo Symphony, led by guest conductor Peter Bay of the Austin Symphony, with soloists Jocelyn Hansen, soprano, Cara Collins, mezzo, Eric Barry, tenor and Andrew Craig Brown, baritone, and a chorus of the Amarillo Master Chorale, directed by Dr. Nate Frymyl, certainly gave those wings to a lucky audience the night of December 3 at the Globe News Center.
The program was abridged, but included popular numbers, the selections possessing a continuity leading up to the finale of the Hallelujah Chorus.
There are perhaps two basic ways to conduct Messiah: legato with eliding phrases; staccato with distinct separation. Peter Bay chose the latter, which more nearly embraced the composer’s intent, and the orchestra followed that direction flawlessly.
Hometown fave, tenor Eric Barry, set the bar extremely high in his opening aria, Comfort Ye My People.” Eric’s ability to sustain the E’s and F’s to inhuman lengths, and then effortlessly take it up a couple of steps is truly a Stupor Mundi (Wonder of the World). That quality most certainly makes him Metropolitan-bound and is reminiscent of Luciano Pavarotti at Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal.
The selected works, however, shortchanged bass-baritone Andrew Craig Brown, who was unable to sing the most powerful work for his part, The Trumpet Shall Sound and the Dead Shall be Raised from I Corinthians 15.
The Master Chorale filled the auditorium in the choruses, each part making a precise, on-key entrance, and singing the complicated runs as one voice. Both For Unto Us a Child is Born as well as And the Glory of the Lord were thrilling.
The astute direction of Dr. Nate Frymyl appeared throughout in a consistency of phrasing and balance of parts. As mentioned in the review of Mozart’s Requiem, the director has to turn down the volume on the male voices. Choral directors everywhere would love to have that problem.
And it all came together powerfully in the electrifying Hallelujah Chorus. The four soloists, as opposed to many occasions when they’ve just mutely stood, joined their own voice to the singing.
If the immediate effect was majestic, the overall result was to infuse the most inveterate Scrooge with the spirit of Christmas present. The Amarillo Symphony, Master Chorale, soloists, and yes, the audience reaction did credit to Handel and the mighty message of his work, which, another Stupor Mundi, he dashed off in only twenty-four days.
But that’s the way we roll here on the Comancheria, and why we say in the spirit of the holiday season: Keep Amarillo Artsy; Keep Austin Weird; Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!