Review of the Oratorio Society of New York 2021-22: Handel’s “Messiah”
On December 20, 2021, the Oratorio Society of New York returned to Carnegie Hall for its annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah”, a tradition the organization has carried on since 1847.
The evening’s concert, dedicated to the memory of company artist and board member Marie Gangemi, included the first part of the oratorio, with selections from parts II and III. The soloists, choir and orchestra, under the direction of renowned conductor Kent Tritle, provided a faithful and commendable interpretation of this enduring work.
Four wonderful soloists
The evening’s four soloists were chosen from among the finalists in the Lyndon Woodside Oratorio-Solo Competition, a recent practice that is also becoming a company tradition. The soloists were soprano Leslie Fagan, contralto Heather Petrie, tenor Joshua Blue and baritone Sidney Outlaw.
Following the lush and majestic opening Sinfonia, Blue’s first recitative, “Comfort ye my people,” was carried with great warmth as he exchanged phrases with the string section in its overture. The relaxed, melismatic approach took on a firmer tone with the phrase “prepare the way for the Lord” as he prepared for the air “The Ev’ry Valley Will Be Exalted”. Blue later returned to the stage during the Part III duet “O Death, Where’s Your Sting?” Where his refined tenor complimented Petrie’s rich viola wonderfully as they worked their way through the contrapuntal phrases.
The next soloist was Outlaw, with his recitative “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts”, offering a beautiful contrast between his deeply rooted baritone and the text which speaks of a great upheaval. These qualities were powerfully inflated for its last part I numbers “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth” and “The people who walked in darkness saw a great light. Through her acts, Outlaw displayed a skillful balance between the sung and narrative aspects of the text, lacking neither clarity nor emotional permeation.
The third soloist heard was Petrie, who was given the tune “But who can bear the day of his coming”. It retained its very pleasant tones as it alternated between legato and staccato type phrases, supported by the great energy of the string tremolo. While his distance from the microphone led to a moment or two during softer sections where I wondered if his voice could be heard by those in the farthest seats, Petrie nonetheless delivered this number with a great vocal pace and crowned it with a magnificent cadence.
Last, and not least, was Fagan, whose consecutive numbers made up most of the mid-section of the concert and were treated with grace and sonority. His tune “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened” featured arachnid support in its lower register that wonderfully accentuated the phrase “He will speak of peace to the pagans” before the da capo. She received the last solo number of the evening with “If God is for us, who can be against us”, where her tender assurances were both pious and remarkably touching.
A thing of majesty
Between these irresistible numbers was the chorus of the troop, whose union of voices combined into a thing of majesty, which even the light dampening of their masks hardly interfered with. They delivered their selections with great joy and tight execution, qualities which were exemplified by the iconic “Hallelujah” choir, where their triumphant and laudatory measures were showcased all the more by the prominent drums and trumpet.
Monday’s concert marked a splendid return for the company to Carnegie Hall, with which the Oratorio Society of New York has enjoyed a special relationship since their time under the direction of fifth president Andrew Carnegie. While the work was not shown in its entirety, the selections still managed to forcefully tie together the messages of birth, death, redemption, and surpassing in ways few others can.
With the threat of the Omicron variant continuing to shut down theaters and shrink audiences around the world, the future of the performing arts will remain in a precarious state over the next few months as companies reassess and fight against it. invisible danger. Yet it is at times such as these that the importance, and one could even argue the necessity, of such performances in bringing people’s hearts together for an evening of musical praise and exultation becomes abundantly clear.
For an oratorio so often played, this concert strongly affirmed that, even in the face of death, tradition endures, faith endures and music endures.