Music Review: HANDEL’S MESSIAH (Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall)

by Barry Creyton on December 22, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles

HANDEL TO PERFECTION

There’s little to say about Handel’s Messiah that hasn’t already been said. That this great work has been a seasonal favorite for two hundred and fifty years, assures us it will be performed at least annually for at least the next two hundred and fifty, and beyond.

The scale of the piece has been juggled by various composers — Malcolm Sargent’s overblown transcription, ignoring the orchestral restraint of the original Handel, was popular for a time, but is seldom heard today. Mozart’s version has been described as adding “stucco ornaments to a marble temple.” Even Mozart had misgivings about his alterations to the score. “Handel knows better than any of us what will make an effect,” Mozart said. “When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt.”

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

Under Grant Gershon’s exuberant guidance, we heard an immaculate performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and orchestra which respected the elements of Handel’s original intention.

Handel wrote this massive work in less than four weeks — as long as it takes some of us to write a shopping list. The first part is threaded liberally with melisma, the acrobatics of which were sung with razor sharp precision by both Chorale and soloists April Amante, Callista Hoffman-Campbell, Todd Strange and Chung Uk Lee. The splendid Chorale sang with their celebrated power, punctuating the entire work with emotional impact, but never ignoring the pianissimo subtlety of such passages as “peace on earth” from the “Glory to God in the Highest” chorus.

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.

As a statement of faith, I can make no observation on Messiah. But as an evening of glorious music, majestically interpreted by LAMC and Gershon, it’s hard to beat.

Trivia: As the “Hallelujah” chorus began at the end of part two, the two thousand plus audience members at Disney Hall rose to its feet, as has become tradition. There are several stories as to how this tradition took hold. My favorite, apocryphal though it may be, is that King George II, who was tone deaf, was present at a performance. When he heard the “Hallelujah,” he took it to be the national anthem and stood. The audience was obliged to follow suit.

More trivia: Rock icon Jimi Hendrix lived briefly in the house next door to Handel’s house of thirty-five years in Brook street, London. Had they lived there concurrently, Messiah might have had a different beat, and “Hear My Train a Comin'” might have been supported by sixty backup singers.

previous production photos courtesy of LAMC

Handel’s Messiah
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Walt Disney Concert Hall
played December 21, 2019
for future events, call 213.972.7282 or visit LAMC

Leave a Comment