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Friday, December 17, 2010

Concert Review: New York Philharmonic Resurrects Handel's "Messiah"

Bernard Labadie. Photo by David Cannon

The New York Philharmonic performed Handel's Messiah as part of this year's holiday celebrations. Wednesday night featured a powerful, uplifting performance with four fine soloists under the skilled direction of conductor Bernard Labadie.

New York's classical music schedule is always crowded with  Messiah at this time of year.  But something about the New York Phiharmonic's performances is special. It could be the high quality of the choral singing, interacting with the orchestra's crack musicians. Or the presence of a strong conductor on the podium, leading Handel's most famous oratorio.

Either way, this year's run of Messiah has a definite French-Canadian twist. Mr. Labadie is from Québéc, along with his two female soloists: soprano Karina Gauvan and contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Ms. Gauvan's big moment was "I know that my redeemer liveth", sung with soaring, inspirational tone. Ms. Lemieux's plummy alto filled in the range often taken by a countertenor, singing the recitatives with a firm delivery and her arias with power and a pleasing lower voice.

The male soloists were pretty good. Tenor Tilman Lichdi is a German import. He has a smallish, if pleasing voice--rather like a younger Ian Bostridge. Bass Andrew Foster Williams was impressive, maneuvering his rather large instrument through "Why do the Nations/He that Dwelleth", the lengthy aria that quotes the letters of St. Paul.

Mr. Foster-Williams' solo set up the "Hallelujah" Chorus, sung by the New York Choral Artists with close harmony and precise counterpoint. The famous chorus was taken at a brisk tempo, but did not feel at all hurried. The Philharmonic audience stood attentively for the "Hallelujah", a tradition started by King George II at the work's London premiere.

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