A holiday tradition continued Sunday at St. Mark's Church in Catonsville with the first of four performances by the Handel Choir of Baltimore of its namesake's 1742 oratorio, "Messiah." The Handel Choir has presented "Messiah" on an annual basis since 1935, but its most recent production offered no signs of boredom or routine.
In general, the four soloists negotiated Handel's demanding vocal writing with distinction. Tenor Robert Petillo's lyrically voiced and sensitively ornamented rendition of "Ev'ry valley" set high standards that were for the most part equaled by his colleagues. Mezzo-soprano Leneida Crawford's warm and agile voice served "O thou that tellest" with great distinction. Richard Johnson's sonorous bass provided constant enjoyment, particularly in a rousing "The trumpet shall sound." After a rather tentative entrance, soprano Rosa Lamoreaux sang with exemplary tonal beauty and feeling. "I know that my Redeemer liveth" was one of the afternoon's highlights, as ideally it should be. Each of the soloists offered superb diction.
Of course, the ultimate success of a performance of "Messiah" rests with the quality of its numerous choruses. In fact, "Messiah" contains more choral numbers than any of Handel's other oratorios. While the Handel Choir does not offer the last word in vocal refulgence or dynamic variety, and accuracy in melismatic passages is too often achieved through overemphasis, the love and enthusiasm of this organization for its task is never in doubt. It is a delight to see choristers radiate such obvious affection for Handel's masterpiece and their inspiration certainly roused the near-capacity audience.
Music Director T. Herbert Dimmock favored moderate to quick tempos that generally worked most successfully, although he and Mr. Johnson seemed at odds in "The people that walked in darkness." Mr. Dimmock achieved an admirable tonal and dynamic balance between the solo, choral and orchestral forces. A number of pieces were excised; a particular shame given the generally high level of execution and interpretation. The series continues with performances on Dec. 17 at St. Ignatius Church, Dec. 18 at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium and Dec. 19 at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation.
What: Handel Choir of Baltimore
When: Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. at St. Ignatius Church, 740 N. Calvert St.; Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. at Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College; and Dec. 19 at 3 p.m. at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 24 W. Preston St.
Call: (410) 366-6544