Los Angeles Music Review: LOS ANGELES MASTER CHORALE: HANDEL’S MESSIAH (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on December 28, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


Los Angeles Master Chorale returned to Walt Disney Concert Hall to conclude its holiday programming with the perennial holiday classical chestnut, Handel’s Messiah. The choir was impeccable under Music Director Grant Gershon’s athletic conducting, and the use of a chamber orchestra brought authenticity to the iconoclastic 1741 English-language oratorio. It is incredible that the oft-performed work was written in just 24 days and also includes two of the best-known movements from all choral works: “For unto us a child is born” and the “Hallelujah” chorus. While there are interpretations of Messiah which increased the size of both choir and orchestra, the version presented by LAMC is faithful to Handel’s original, save for some minor excisions (this was billed as a “concert version”).

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Handel’s Messiah

As usual, LAMC outshined the typical Messiah renderings heard in church, college, and community choirs; indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find one error or flat tone: Certain selections, such as “And He shall purify,” were executed with a rapturous balance of both joyous disposition and sectional volume by the chorus; others, exemplified by “Surely He hath borne our griefs,” showed impeccable elocution and strength. But while the overall concert was a faithful rendering, it was a bit underwhelming due to some of the soloists being inadequate for this large hall, a venue which seems less suitable to a historically informed Messiah than would a church.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Handel’s MessiahOccasionally, the 36-member chorale could overtake the 29-piece orchestra. Normally in this hall, I can easily pick out each instrument aurally, but the occasional reed – and especially Lisa Edwards’ harpsichord – could completely disappear when accompanying the chorale (never did we miss the extraordinary trumpets of David Washburn and Marisa Benedict). When the orchestra played on its own in “Pastoral Symphony,” the highly soulful expressiveness was astounding (the “Pastoral Symphony” introduces the shepherds; in naming it a Pifa, Handel is indicating the music of the pifferari, the country bagpipers who played piffaros, a double-reed instrument of the oboe family).

27 of the 44 movements include soloists, so their work must be triumphant throughout. Artists are selected from the ranks of the chorale, but I had to wonder how much more powerful the concert would have been with guest artists. Tenor Jon Lee Keenan wavered a bit at first, but soon became the soloist of the night, performing with clarity and power; his melismatic work, in which an ornamental phrase of several notes is sung to one syllable of text, hit just the right balance between staccato and legato. (Speaking of melisma, the chorus did spectacular work in “For unto us a child is born,” which on the word “born” has the soprano and alto lines engage in a 57-note melisma!)

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Handel’s Messiah

Soprano Elissa Johnston certainly had the power to fill the hall and did adequate to exceptional work on both her recitatives and arias, but her musical runs were not as successful as Mr. Keenan’s. Baritone Vincent Robles also executed tight but fluid melismas, but his work did not leave an impression, mainly due to a deficiency of power in his lower register. Mezzo Soprano Adriana Manfredi brought Charles Jennens’ English-language text to life with her wonderful diction (the libretto was compiled from both the King James and Great Bibles). Unfortunately, Ms. Manfredi was muddy and inconsistent in volume between her upper and lower registers, and was even jarring at one point when bounding from pianissimo to forte.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful event which certainly showcased the reasons why LAMC is a world-class organization. The glittering lights and sparkling ornaments shined on the sold out crowd, which jumped to its feet in unison when the “Hallelujah” chorus began. Although this production did not astound, LAMC shall reign forever and ever.

Los Angeles Master Chorale: Handel’s Messiah
Walt Disney Concert Hall
played December 22, 2012
for future LAMC events, call 213-972-7282 or visit LAMC

{ 1 comment }

Stephen December 23, 2014 at 7:04 pm

My wife and I were very unhappy with the soloists. They certainly were not ready for a large auditorium. We sat directly above them and yet rarely were able to hear anything other than fortes. The choir as you said was outstanding, truly breathtaking. Mr. Gershon should have had enough respect for his audience to employ adequate soloists.

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