CHRISTMAS MUSIC

The Kennedy Center singalong always draws a large and eager crowd, as here in 2002.
The Kennedy Center singalong always draws a large and eager crowd, as here in 2002. (By Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

'Messiah' Singalong

The 36th singalong performance of Handel's "Messiah" on Sunday had people camping out on the Kennedy Center's marble plaza overnight, some traveling a thousand or more miles to stand in line for the free performance, its 2,500-plus tickets gone in less than a day.

Five local choruses totaling over 250 voices and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra crowded onto the Concert Hall stage. Excerpts from all three parts of the "Messiah" resounded through the hall, with the complex "Hallelujah" Chorus repeated as an encore.

The chief conductor, Barry Hemphill, encouraged the audience to be fully "part of the performance" and occasionally corrected diction, quipping (to prepare the movement "For Unto Us a Child Is Born"), "Don't sing a New Yorker-type 'unto-yus.' " Two additional conductors, Ulysses S. James and Kim Allen Kluge, led single movements.

The "Messiah" singalong is an informal and fun occasion, full of choral and orchestral camaraderie. So some imperfections in the performance are not surprising -- most evident Sunday in insecure ensemble between the soloists and orchestra (though with a wonderful solo trumpet). And the solo singers weren't always in top form, though tenor Kevin Park has a burnished, powerful voice.

-- Cecelia Porter

Folger Consort

England's King Henry VIII was a powerful ruler not only politically but also musically, and his court was a bastion of Renaissance culture. His reign was marked by endless lusty revels, celebrations and tournaments. All these, even musical events, were given primarily for regal display, drawing in the best performers and compositions of the day. The Folger Consort's "Greensleeves" concert, at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Sunday afternoon, included Christmas carols, seasonal motets and dance-propelled instrumental works once heard at Henry's court and chapel. Some were composed by the king himself.

The Consort is an ensemble of remarkable versatility; many of Sunday's performers switched back and forth among a colorfully varied array of period string, wind and percussion instruments. Drew Minter, the group's splendid countertenor, at times joined in with the harp. Dan Stillman alternated between trombone and several types of recorders, along with a period oboe and bassoon. A co-founder of the group, Robert Eisenstein, moved with ease from the medieval fiddle to the gamba and recorder. Tom Zajac played the harp, recorders, transverse flute and bagpipe. Webb Wiggins darted back and forth between two organs -- one a tiny portative with a hand pump supplying air to the pipes. Besides Minter, the fine singers included tenors Philip Cave and Robert Petillo and baritone Bob McDonald.

Almost everything was excellent, but the highlights were the mellow yet exuberant "Noels," the joyful "Green Groweth the Holly" by King Henry and the mellifluous, poignant Latin motets. Wiggins's ornately embellished and pulsing dance pieces and the spicy carol "Somerset Wassail" rounded off a robust yuletide event.

-- Cecelia Porter


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