Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Messiahs I have known

I brought my battered score that has lost its cover page and still shows charring along the top from when I rescued it from a burned house. I was taking it to the Fredereck Messiah sing-along.

The alto solos in my score still show the red underlines, ornaments and markings from when I was a Messiah soloist too many years ago. The same score also shows when to stand and when to sit from the years I was in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. The symphony performed Messiah with a chorus of only about 25 people, which meant no malingering. Doing Messiah like this four nights in a row is one of the reasons I quit the symphony. It was just too much for a working person.

The first complete recording I owned of anything was the Huddersfield Choral Society recording of Handel's Messiah, so the piece is in my head with a chorus of 250, not 25. So what's not to like? "Worthy is the lamb" is fabulous with that big blast of sound coming at you. This is yet more evidence that I am a philistine.

The Frederick Messiah sing-along had a 15 piece orchestra, including clarinets and an excellent trumpeter, the star of the evening. She used an instrument that looked just a little bigger than a bugle. We didn't form into sections, so I was on my own.

Handel would not have used clarinets since they hadn't been invented yet, but they remind me of the fact that the SF Symphony occasionally performed Messiah in an arrangement by Mozart who wanted it orchestrated for his standard orchestra instead of Handel's very different one. The trumpet parts were changed to French horns. The text was in German, as I recall.

In my day we hardly ornamented at all, performing Messiah virtually as notated, but today's soloists ornament freely, especially the soprano, Leah Inger. She was very into this.

The conductor of the Frederick sing-along, Judith L. DuBose, took everything at quite a breath-taking clip, showing us sing-alongers no mercy. The great curiosity of Messiah is how the choral parts are more ornamented than the solos. Other Handel oratorios are just not like that.

My voice doesn't work at all any more, but I croaked my way through anyway. Were we supposed to rehearse?

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