Nerissa Sparkman Phorography.
Georg Frideric Händel’s Messiah
John Austin Clark, conductor
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
When Bourbon Baroque co-director John Austin Clark told me that he and his fiancé were packing up and moving to the bright lights and hustle and bustle of New York City, I was ecstatic for them but I also wondered about the fate of Bourbon Baroque. Mr. Clark assured me I had nothing to wonder about. True to his word, Bourbon Baroque returned for what would prove to be a stunning performance of the oft-performed yuletide favorite: Händel’s Messiah.
Presented in the beautiful environs of St. Brigid’s Church, a full audience was gifted with the whole of this great Oratorio. From Isaiah’s Prophecy of Salvation to The Acclamation of the Messiah. For those that are familiar with this particular work performed with a huge orchestra and even greater chorus you may wonder how 15 vocalists and 17 musicians can pull it off. Believe it or not, Händel originally composed this masterpiece for a smaller ensemble, so, in Bourbon Baroque’s talented and capable hands, it fits perfectly.
From the first strike of the bow in Sinfony to the last Amen, the musicianship of those assembled was audibly inspiring.
As I mentioned there were 15 vocalists who served as chorus and soloists, each getting a turn. First we get to hear tenor Steven Paul Spears return to the podium demonstrating why he is so well versed in singing Baroque style music, providing balance and beautiful legato lines.
One of many WOW moments that I had that evening was within the And the glory of the Lord chorus and the introduction of a fuller sound in the alto range that not a lot of choruses get the opportunity to use: that sound being the voice of a Countertenor. Andrew Rader’s is perhaps one of the purest and most vibrant Countertenors that I have heard in memory, recent or otherwise. If I may jump the order of the oratorio, his Behold recitative and O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, complete with interesting and appropriate ornamentation, had me smiling from ear to ear.
Mezzo Lindsey Adams was lush and lovely, especially so with Thou art gone up on high. She was masterful in her interpretation and delivery. I was very happy to see Ernie Adams among the other singers and when he began singing For behold, darkness shall cover the Earth, I remembered why. Having heard Mr. Adams at Kentucky Opera and the Stephen Foster Story, I recalled his deep and dark basso. His performance for Bourbon Baroque was equally stunning.
Within the familiar For unto us a child is born I noticed the instrumentation turning pitch a bit and I wonder if the orchestra realized that too, for afterward, they took a break to re-tune, which is imperative for their aged and beautifully crafted instruments.
From the beginning of Emily Albrink’s There were shepherd’s abiding in the fields to He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, her voice was orotund and very pleasing. As was Rebecca Mariman’s Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Despite not having a big operatic voice, she does have a beautiful, dulcet tone. Perhaps one of the youngest members within the ensemble is mezzo Audrey Adams, who is currently attending the University of Kentucky (UK) in pursuit of a Performance Major. While she has an absolutely lovely voice, I found it very difficult to understand her He was despised and rejected of men. It could have been a balance issue or just a need to enunciate a little more clearly. Ryan Connelly, who I got to enjoy at the Kentucky Opera, also had a problem with swallowing words, but his tenor was sonorous. Another UK student, Marie-France Duclos, was velvety. Amy Peer and Emily Black, two other young sopranos, were impressive and show great promise in their young careers. Jonathan Stanley’s duet with Maggie Schwenker was nice.
Did you think that I would forget about some of our other local favorites? Jim Rittenhouse, who has probably performed Messiah more times than I can count, was his pleasingly booming and commanding self. I felt that Maggie Schwenker, whose range is wide, didn’t get enough to sing. Chad Sloan, who I’ve enjoyed since first I worked with him many years ago, was resonant and velvety.
Chorally speaking, despite a few times that the ensemble would seem a bit heavy and muddled, such as in His yoke is easy or tenors and basses dragged a little in And he shall purify the sons of Levi, on the whole the Chorus parts were fantastic. There was a great balance between voice and instrument. Even when performing A cappella, such as All we like sheep have gone astray, the blend of sound was lush and enveloping.
Throughout the evening I would watch as the orchestra would visually connect with one another while playing, making me believe that everyone was in tune with what the other was doing, or warning them to do so.
I know that this performance was perhaps a bit difficult for this tight knit group of professionals to be playing without their late violinist Rachel Blanton, but I am certain, she’d be very happy with what Bourbon Baroque had achieved with Messiah: beauty and artistry.
Georg Frideric Händel’s Messiah
November 28 & 29, 2015
St. Brigid’s Catholic Church
1520 Hepburn Avenue
Louisville, KY 40204
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville, and is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.