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Handel for the Holidays: NJSO’s Powerful ‘Messiah’
by Sherri Rase      |   follow us...

   
courtesy of NJSO
Montclair State University Singers

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New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) pulled out all the stops for what is becoming a true Holiday tradition, George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.” George Manahan was at the helm this year with a band of merry and highly accomplished soloists, including the dynamic duo soprano Patricia Schuman and her husband bass-baritone David Pittsinger. Her solos were marked with crisp soaring highs that danced so lightly and gracefully over the baroque runs. His orotund register gave luster to parts of the score that, in other hands, might sound muddy. His lows were profondo while his highs were beautifully clean. Mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips had a mobility and drama to her work, golden honey to her tone, and such expression in voice and face, making for a moving performance. Tenor Ryan MacPherson’s voice was warm and flexibly energetic, with a glorious upper range that sounded like it sprung from the angels. The quartet made a brilliant team, though I was surprised that they were not seated in front of the orchestra, as previously, but behind it. I can only imagine that there was a sound reason for doing so—literally. The Montclair State University Singers, a world-class group under the direction of the esteemed Heather Buchanan, took on the choruses with great fervor and, under Manahan’s baton, gave us quite a few surprises.
Special highlights included the confectionary combination of Phillips and Schuman on “He Shall Feed His Flock/Come Unto Him.” Phillips was warm caramel, while Schuman was spun sugar–both delicious and achingly beautiful. Phillips’ “He Was Despised” was so sincere and dramatically, almost conversational, pure in tone. Maestro Manahan seemed also to take the chorus “He trusted in God,” the bass air “Why do the nations so furiously rage,” and the chorus “Let us break their bonds” at a slightly faster tempo than I am accustomed to, with the latter more staccato. This lent tremendous energy at a time in the program where the proceedings may get ponderous and gave a showcase for the alacrity of both Pittsinger and the chorus itself. “Worthy is the lamb” also had much more movement and lightness, which lent greater delicacy and power to the big finish. Thank you, NJSO! It is now well and truly Christmas!
New Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Xian Xhang was in the audience with her family, enjoying the music. Next year, when she’s onstage, you could take the seat that she here. Visit www.njsymphony.org for more excitement and to create your subscription package, or one as a gift for a friend—today! The Winter Festival is coming and you’ll want to be part of the action!

 

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