The surest sign the city seems to be returning to something like normal, is Handel’s Messiah performed all over. I’m seeing many friends on Facebook either reporting that they’re singing it or feeling left out because so many others are doing it.
There’s Tafelmusik in their historically informed approach, Soundstreams / Crow’s Theatre offering their Electric Messiah, or even the award-winning Messiah / Complex you can now find online from Against the Grain Theatre. Yes it’s that time of year, and we could feel that eagerness in a packed Roy Thomson Hall.
You may recall that last year the Toronto Symphony offered an 85 minute version, which was the best option available at the time, given concerns over our hygiene.
Tonight I went to hear the first of five 135 minute Messiahs the TSO offer this year under the leadership of Gustavo Gimeno. I’m excited to hear a longer version but also delighted at the opportunity to see another side of GG, watching our new Music Director take on something a bit different from what we’ve heard from him so far in his brief tenure.
The stars of the evening were the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, prepared by Jean-Sébastien Vallée, who, like Gimeno, is also new in his role as Artistic Director.
The choir were often very soft, particularly in the early portions of a piece such as the Hallelujah Chorus, building throughout. Their phrasing was impeccable, undaunted by the acoustical challenges of a bigger space such as Roy Thomson Hall. I loved the quick tempi they took in “All we like sheep” or “Lift up your heads”, each word distinct. It was a team effort, between Gimeno or Vallée shaping the phrases of the chorus with the orchestra building to spectacular climaxes again and again.
In the past I’ve noticed the TSO responding to Gimeno’s leadership, and tonight saw the TMC similarly inspired.
The four soloists (soprano Lauren Fagan, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Wake-Edwards, tenor Michael Colvin and baritone Elliot Madore) were superb. I was especially impressed by Colvin’s dramatic readings of the Part Two tenor solos, powerfully moving and very musical.
The TSO – TMC Messiah continues with four more performances on consecutive days from Sunday Dec 18 (a matinee) to Wednesday Dec 21.