Everything about the performance of Handel's "Messiah" at the Washington Cathedral last night was remarkable. The 300 singers and a Baroque orchestra of 100 musicians (aptly named The Smithsonian Concerto Grosso) re-created the massive proportions of the 1784 Westminster Abbey performance that celebrated the composer's centennial.
There were 12 Baroque oboes and 10 bassoons, three sackbuts and a serpent. The stellar quartet of soloists, which included soprano Edith Mathis, countertenor James Bowman, tenor Claes Ahnsjo and bass Tom Krause, sang magnificently from the pulpit while trumpets held forth from the lectern. The cathedral was packed and there was an air of joy about the whole occasion.
The scale of the performance may have been immense but the performance itself was pure Baroque, light, rhythmically explicit and contrapuntally clear. Perhaps most remarkable of all, its clarity survived the Cathedral's acoustics.
The man responsible for all of this musical integrity was conductor Antal Dorati, who kept the orchestra light and spritely, maintained the rhythmic momentum of the expertly trained Cathedral Choral Society and University of Maryland Chorus, and found, even in this well-worn score, moments of surprise and freshness.
It was a remarkable evening and will be repeated tonight.