December 20, 2011

… a thrilling and brilliant finale to an annual treat

Tedrin Blair Lindsay — Contributing Culture Critic

The Messiah season ended in Lexington on Sunday afternoon with the biggest and best performance of all those that have graced our city in the last month. The Lexington Singers, under the expert direction of Jefferson Johnson, filled the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall not only with the beautiful music of this oratorio, but also with an infectious enthusiasm for it.

No detail of this festive and meaningful presentation seemed to have been left untended, including the lush bank of poinsettias stretching the entire length of the stage, echoed in the crimson scarves and bow ties of the singers.

The Lexington Singers performed the familiar choruses with a full sound and a light texture, so that Johnson’s bright, exciting tempos had both muscle and buoyancy — a felicitous combination. They also remained engaged in the proceedings when the superb soloists were center stage, and they showed their heart for the piece even further by singing the Hallelujah chorus from memory.

Johnson selected opera singers rather than Baroque specialists for his soloists, and they all performed thrillingly. Metropolitan Opera tenor Gregory Turay fairly radiated joy from the stage, even when he wasn’t singing, and between his sensitive, expressive moments and his commanding, extroverted ones, he took the audience on a full artistic journey in his numbers.

Contralto La’Shelle Allen also exuded great warmth on stage throughout the oratorio, wielding her cavernous voice with dexterity and in full service to the text. Soprano Julie LaDouceur contributed a fabulous, jubilant Rejoice Greatly, and it was delightful to note that the red and black color scheme used elsewhere on the stage carried over into these ladies’ selection of gowns.

Baritone Eric Brown evinced a less personable stage presence, but this is suitable for that soloist’s stern utterances, and he performed excellently, although with stodgier passage work than the other three.

In choosing these soloists, Johnson offered the audience an interesting contrast in sonorities. LaDouceur and Turay (the high voices) sing with more opulent vibrato than Allen and Brown (the low voices), whose vocal vibrancy could be characterized more as an instrumental tremolo. Both chorus and soloists sang with impeccable diction.

An ad hoc orchestra composed of outstanding area musicians, most of whom had already distinguished themselves in one or more of this season’s Messiahs, played wonderfully, especially in the stately, plaintive Overture and the lovely Pastoral Symphony. The ensemble was anchored with elegant authority from the harpsichord by Jay Flippin.

In the wake of these many Messiahs, I would like to suggest to Central Kentucky’s musical organizations that there are numerous other Christmas-themed works that would add depth to the cultural calendar in future seasons: Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ, Saint-Saëns’Christmas Oratorio, Respighi’s Lauda per la Natività del Signore, Bach’s Magnificat and Christmas Oratorio, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s own Dixit Dominus, and any number of works by British composers including Britten and Vaughan Williams.

Freshening the seasonal repertoire would be a magnificent holiday gift from arts presenters to audiences next year. Meanwhile, how commendable for Lexington that yet another Messiah should prove to be such a proper climax for this year’s onslaught of them.

Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.

Reprinted courtesy of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
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