If we should all put forth the energy and concentration necessary to communicate with our muses, what might our insights be, and what heights might we scale?
Crawford Gates expended that energy during the past year, talking to Handel via computer, analyzing his style and penetrating his secrets. (Believe it or not, "Messiah" still holds some mysteries, accessible to the deep seeker.) As a result, Handel talked back to him; and through him, to all in the Tabernacle who had ears to hear and hearts to feel.I was delighted that Handel, as interpreted by our intermediary conductor, feels much as I do about tempos, dynamics, general flow, accent, emphasis and spirit! Maybe I felt that way because Gates was so persuasive at every juncture. In any event, not in recent memory has there been a "Messiah" so meticulous, lucid and accurate, and yet so finely felt. One senses that this was because all parts assumed their proper proportion in a cohesive whole, which Gates took the trouble to view in its entirety.
Fortunately, on its 75th anniversary, the chorus, well-prepared by Morris Lee, was the best in years. The parts balanced beautifully, men's voices were sufficient, running sequences were clean and rapport with the baton was complete. And one gratefully acknowledges a significant improvement in the altos - not yet perfect in volume and tone from so large a section, but they held their own commendably.
The big choruses had a crystalline clarity and scintillation, propelled by the confidence of many repetitions. But the secondary choruses were equally vital, with all corners cleaned out, all cobwebs swept away. Among fugues, "His yoke is easy" danced easefully, and "He trusted in God" had incisive thrust. "Surely He hath borne our griefs" was no less poignant at a lively tempo, "Since by man came death" vitally contrasted loud and soft dynamics and "Worthy is the Lamb" and the Amen mounted a spiral of ever-increasing exultation.
Gates likewise kept tight control over an excellent orchestral contribution, whether in accompaniment mode or its own interludes. And upon the soloists he bent a concentrated gaze combining equal parts of support and infusion of energy.
Stylish Utah soloists did themselves proud in this "Messiah." Soprano JoAnn Ottley joyously set forth the birth and rejoicing of the first half, to crown all with a deeply felt "I know that my Redeemer liv-eth." Doris Brunatti has grown outstandingly in the alto solos, smoothly producing a big dark voice that significantly expressed "O thou that tellest good tidings" and "He shall feed his flock."
Dave Arnold's gave natural declamation to his arias in a fine free tenor, with nice simplicity of expression. And baritone David Power stayed clean and accurate on the many rapid bass solos, with exceptional breath control in the florid sequences. The voice is light and high for this work, but what he lacked in heft, Power made up in nobility of spirit. In most cases the soloists' ornamentations were tasteful, advancing the spirit and dynamic of the music rather than impeding it, as is sometimes the case.
One might note a particularly magical visual effect in the Tabernacle, with the women's bright aqua blue blouses complementing the azure blue back-lighting of the organ.