New Dominion Chorale Puts Its Stamp on 'Messiah'

The female soloists, soprano Lisa Eden, left, and mezzo-soprano Grace Gori, sang with feeling but were often hard to hear in the acoustics of Schlesinger Concert Hall.
The female soloists, soprano Lisa Eden, left, and mezzo-soprano Grace Gori, sang with feeling but were often hard to hear in the acoustics of Schlesinger Concert Hall. (Vocal Arts Society)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Handel's "Messiah," written for performance during Lent, is nowadays ubiquitous during the Christmas season, making it a challenge to find a new way to present it. Thomas Beveridge, artistic director of the New Dominion Chorale, came up with one -- a modification of a modification of a modification. Mozart modernized the 1741 "Messiah" for the tastes of 1789; Ebenezer Prout used Mozart's version to create a 1902 performing edition that, among other things, replaced the harpsichord with a piano; and Beveridge adapted the Mozart-Prout version for a performance Sunday at Schlesinger Concert Hall in Alexandria.

Since New Dominion Chorale accepts anyone who wishes to join, it is reasonable to expect it to have more enthusiasm than polish -- but not so. The 200-person chorus did swamp the chamber-size orchestra, but the singing was clear and precise.

Beveridge favored slow, rather old-fashioned tempos, making the "Hallelujah" Chorus monumental but turning the opening Sinfonia and the "Pastoral Symphony" interlude lugubrious. His excerpting and rearrangement of "Messiah" removed Handel's dramatic cohesion, but his addition of brass and timpani parts to some choruses made them more emphatic.

Bass soloist Jeffrey Tarr was outstanding. He looks too slight to contain such a large, resonant voice, filled with both power and clarity. Tenor Issachah Savage had power, too, but tended to rush certain words so he could emphasize others. Soprano Lisa Eden and mezzo-soprano Grace Gori seemed overmatched by the hall's acoustics and were often hard to hear, although both sang with feeling. This was not a "Messiah" for the ages, but it was one of the many for our age.

-- Mark J. Estren


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