I thoroughly enjoyed the concert presented by the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO), Chorus and Soloists Friday night, Dec 9th 2016. It was a very cold night and Knox United Church was filled to the brim with musicians and music lovers for this sold out performance. I felt very fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to have been part of that crowd!
Handel’s “Messiah” is a wonderful Oratorio that is most recently traditionally performed at Christmas time and was first performed at Easter time. As is the case for Oratorios, the soloists and chorus perform the story in Concert Setting without costumes, sets, or acting – different in this way from Operas that also involve chorus and soloists. In Handel’s “Messiah”, although there is no acting involved, there is certainly drama – musical drama. In listening to the instrumental sections between and accompanying sung sections, one can hear so much drama and musical reflection of the text – much akin to the role music plays in movies. Handel displays wonderfully evocative text painting skills in vocal parts and instrumentally as well.
Clarity, precision, expressiveness, and communication – all necessary elements for effective performances – Eric Paetkau and the SSO accomplished this and more in Friday night’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. The soloists were all centred and masterful in their well prepared and carefully planned out performances – performing with freedom and inspiring artistry.
Soprano Danika Lorèn’s non-traditional placement of ornaments brought up for me the nature of the relationship between Art and the Artist. Part of an Artist’s job is to take the Art – in this case Music – apart and to play around with all the parts before putting it back together again to ultimately bring the Music to Life for the audience. In so doing, the Artist gets inside the Music and the Music gets inside the Artist and it becomes a symbiotic relationship where it becomes difficult to tell where the Artist ends and where the Music begins and vice versa. Mark Turner, SSO Executive Director, mentioned to me that I would love Danika’s ornaments (and I did!) and that she ornaments in different places than where we traditionally expect them to be – with lots of “pyrotechnics” (true!). He also mentioned that the other soloists were inspired by this to explore more ornamentation in their solos as well – very much evident in the performance. All ornamentation was done with playful enjoyment, mastery, and a nice balance of Baroque style ornamentation with displays of technical prowess.
My favourite part of Alto Lisa Hornung’s performance was her rendition of the aria, “He was despised and rejected of men” – I don’t think I was alone in my enjoyment of this performance – the church was so very quiet for this aria! I also loved the fact that the lower voices were well balanced with a sparser orchestration and lower dynamic level overall from the orchestra so that the richness of the lower voices could be heard easily. Lisa’s rich and free sound reminded me that singing is not only about the words, it is about making beautiful sounds with long free lines. She makes it look and feel effortless and also has a lovely way of colouring the words and bringing out word and syllable stress within the long lines of the music.
Tenor Spencer McKnight took advantage of this opportunity to shine especially during his long and high notes and beautifully done runs! A highlight in his performance was his rendition of the favourite and ever popular “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted” – this and his other arias showed a particular freedom in his sound that has developed since the last time I had the opportunity to hear him sing – Bravo Spencer! I also enjoyed the precision in his ornaments.
By Baritone Matthew Pauls’ second or third solo, we could really hear the richness and freedom in his tone – what a treat! I look forward to how his and the other soloists’ voices continue to develop – it seems to me that the longer people do this sort of work, the more comfortable they become and the better and more free the tone produced becomes as well! I loved this rendition of “Sound the Trumpet” – and Terry Heckman’s trumpet solo part in this was spot on and gorgeous!
A couple more highlights for me included the choruses – especially the first few that are so familiar and I loved the clarity of the runs within each section! The Soprano aria “Rejoice Greatly” – this was the crowning jewel of the entire work in my opinion and not just because I know this aria inside out – the artistry involved in this all ‘round was just wonderful and inspiring and fun! Eric Paetkau and the performers used silence effectively and dramatically in several movements – especially towards the end of the work. And, I loved the chorus suddenly standing up during one of the Baritone arias – very effective and dramatic and reflective of the text at the time. It was also beautiful to stand with everyone for the Halleluja chorus!
Thank you everyone for all your hard work!! It has certainly paid off!! Bravo!!!