Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Review of the Review

Here is the "official review" of last night's concert from Birmingham music critic, Michael Huebner. My casual observations on the performance follow.

Mr. Huebner's main point was that the concert was "anything but routine," making the point that Messiah during the Christmas season has become predictable and boring.

I thought he was right on with this observation:
Scott kept the adrenaline flowing by propelling the action at a good clip, rarely allowing more than a second or two between numbers.
Mr. Scott had a great pace with tempos and pauses between movements, I certainly agree. About our performance, he says this:
At times it was exhilarating, at others it glossed over the liturgical message. Still other moments yielded uneven showings from the chorus and soloists.
Uneven from the chorus? What the heck? He explains the comment with this, his only other comment on the chorus:
The combined choirs had female voices outnumbering males two to one, making for a strong soprano section that often overwhelmed the tenors. Choral numbers were big and full, but Handel's intricate counterpoint often fell into a murky fog.
Interesting comment, and it may be true--I can't tell from where I was in the chorus. I don't remember attention from the conductor towards the dynamics during the concert--do you? I don't remember too many rehearsal instructions like: "TENORS, you must be loud here--and Sopranos, for Heaven's sake, you are too loud in that section!" So . . . although I thought that we did a fantastic job, this point of improvement may be true.

I view the interpretation of counterpoint like this:
1. Bring out all entrances
2. After your entrance, back away from your line when other parts are entering--they are more important. (At that point, your line is accompaniment to them--it should be present and support what the subjects are doing, but never dominate).
3. It's not something that naturally happens for a singer--we come in loud and we stay loud unless someone tells us to back off. Think about the "And cast away . . . " section . . . did you consciously get softer when you came in with your part?

Although it is tempting to resent critical comments, we can certainly learn from them if they are accurate.

Here's what the reviewer meant by uneven showings from the soloists:
Among the soloists, bass Jason Hardy was the clear standout. His recitative, "Thus saith the Lord," brimmed with expression. The aria, "Why do the nations so furiously rage," was a fierce dramatic depiction. Tenor Bradley Howard sang lyrically, but came up shy of Hardy's viscerality. Mezzo-soprano Angela Horn possesses strength in her upper register, but many of the low notes were lost. Soprano Elizabeth Andrews Roberts missed the intonation mark too often to make her singing palatable.
So he liked the bass best; I liked the mezzo, followed by the bass. To me, A. Horn was just fine in her low notes--I certainly heard them clearly. I don't disagree with his opinion of the tenor and soprano.

And this was certainly a treat:
A spontaneous standing ovation from the packed Jemison Concert Hall followed the "Amen" chorus . . .

Charles, at one point, said to me: I'd sure like to have a crowd like that at one of our concerts!

So would I, Charles, so would I.

One more comment . . . there was the presumption from the reviewer and also from some members of the chorus that this was "just another performance of the Messiah." Perhaps it is "cool" in some circles to look down on performing a work so well known; I can understand something of the sentiment. However, one must remember that there are very few opportunities in life to experience singing in an outstanding 160-member chorus with a professional orchestra to a packed house of paying guests. It is very possible that you will never have the experience again. You may get out of singing entirely, drop out of school, or, God forbid, have an accident or sickness that renders you incapable of ever performing again. Don't forget it.

As for me, here is my thought:
"Last night I got to sing Handel's Messiah, and it was incredible. Thank you, God, for giving me moments like that."

1 comment:

Raul V said...

That was me speaking over Charles' shoulder.