Sunday, December 4, 2011


The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presented it annual performance of Handel’s Messiah.  Norman Mackenzie conducted the Baroque-sized orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus.  The size of the chorus was a perfect match for the size of the orchestra. 

The opening piece was Bach’s Magnificat.  It was wonderful performance that highlighted Bach’s genius for complex polyphony.  It is a fairly short piece and every minute was well sung and played.
After intermission, the Handel was presented.  The four soloists, who also sang during the Bach, were”
Stephanie Washington, soprano
Magdalena Wor, Mezzo-soprano
Richard Clement, Tenor
Gerard Sundberg, Bass.
More comments about them in a bit.

Mackenzie and the orchestra were in top form.  The balances were correct, and the harpsichord played an elegant supportive role.  It didn’t lead, as can happen when the conductor is not paying attention to detail.  The Chamber Chorus is a marvel.  Its diction is precise to the degree that it almost sounds like a single voice singing.  The soloists were variable.  The weakest was Washington.  She had great trouble in the lowest range of her voice, and her sound was almost steely throughout.  Clement was not able to muster the volume demanded for a performance in a concert hall.  He was often drowned out by the orchestra and chorus.  I do not blame Mackenzie for this.  Clement just does not have a big voice.  Wor was wonderful.    She has a large voice that never loses its subtlety.  She is in control even at the extremes of her range.  Sundberg has a great voice that suited Symphony Hall. 

Handlel’s music can be incredibly beautiful.  “And he shall purify…” is a rapturous piece that reflects Handle’s own spiritual bliss.  Of course the Hallelujah chorus is oft performed and is a great crowd pleaser.
For once, I felt that the acoustics of Symphony Hall really supported the performance.  As I have noted in other reviews, it seems best suited to smaller ensembles. 

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