Saturday, December 15, 2007


Despite wind, weather, and sloppy roads I made it into town this evening for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra-Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh performance of Handel's Messiah.


I've been acquainted with Messiah as a work since I was in high school or before. I've sung it in performance once or twice, and innumerable times in Messiah sing-alongs. And it always seemed to me that there was this great gray gap between "His yoke is easy" at the end of Part I and "Worthy is the Lamb" at the end, broken only by the Hallelujah Chorus and maybe the "Rod of Iron" and "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" arias.

But life and experience alter many things, and tonight it was those parts I used to blur over that made the most impression on me. "He was despised." "Thy rebuke hath broken his heart." All those parts that tell how Jesus the Christ was rejected and rebelled against by the people He came to save. That's how it is. No redemption without suffering, no crown without the cross. Angels announcing "Glory to God!" to shepherds and a Child born unto us are all very well-- but that good news means nothing without what followed thirty-three years later.

There were some college-aged people in my row who left at the intermission, before those parts were sung. Maybe they thought as I used to. Maybe they were too young to understand.

But I hope not.


I've read that it was King George III who leapt to his feet at the first performance of the Hallelujah chorus, so impressed was he. And all his subjects present followed suit, and so have audiences thereafter.

Yes, that George III.

You'd think it would be considered unpatriotic for us Americans to assume and keep up the custom. But I'm glad it isn't. Farmer George, despite his political myopia concerning certain trans-Atlantic colonies, wasn't wrong (or mad) all the time. And this is one time he was very right and sane indeed.

And tonight in Pittsburgh, we stood.


I would say the PSO chamber musicians and the Mendelssohn Choir did very well.


Considering that conductor Julian Wachter chose to take the tempi so fast, he resembled a Presbyterian preacher with a half-hour's worth of sermon whose elders have told him he'd better not go over fifteen minutes--or else. Very marcato, very clipped, scarcely a largo or a tenuto the whole evening.

Maybe I exaggerate. But not by much. The later it got, the more prestissimosimosimo he went. In the middle of the "Blessing and honor, glory and power" chorus, I heard a man in the row above me whisper to his wife, "He's taking it too fast." I glanced around. His wife was waggling her fingertips together in a rapid motion, like the beaks of ravenous birds. It summed up the conductor's technique very aptly.

You can get certain musical effects with that approach. Maybe you could argue they would be authentic Baroque effects. But go too far, and you no longer have music-- only effects.

The soloists? I liked the bass-baritone the best. The mezzo seemed to have trouble with her phrasing-- she never seemed to hold a line. I don't know if she was fighting a cold, or doing it on purpose.

All the soloists had good tone and intonation. But none of them really filled the hall. Maybe it was the acoustics.

Maybe I wish I could afford to sit closer and find out!


Miss Kitty said...

Wow. I bet that was an AWESOME performance. I'm stuck listening to classical performances on Georgia Public Radio. Oh, well! :-P So good that you were able to go hear such a beautiful piece of sacred music.

St. Blogwen said...

Yes, it is great to be within driving distance of Pixburgh and the PSO. And wonderful that they offered some really fantastic (i.e., cheap!) season series deals this year.

Now if I could only bring in WQED (Pittsburgh NPR classical) up here in the Valleys . . .