Friday, December 17, 2010

Apollo's Fire: Handel's Messiah

Handel: The Messiah
Meredith Hall, soprano; Amanda Crider, mezzo-soprano; Ross Hauck, tenor; Jeffrey Strauss, baritone.
At First Baptist Church, Shaker Heights.

"Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future" Ludo, Topeaka (quoting Oscar Wilde)

On one hand I feel that I should approach the performance in a vacuum, but to do that is to deny the realities of life: Namely how any one experience moves us will invariably affect later experiences. On the short drive from my house to First Baptist Church for tonight's amazing performance of Handel's Messiah Ludo's Topeka popped up on my play list. And the wonderfully simple lyric quoted above finally made sense to me. During the performance, it seemed an apt parallel for my relationship with Apollo's Fire.

Going in I had some reservations: After 3 Messiahs in a row last year I was tempted to sit it out this year. My past Apollo's fire have been mixed (though trending better) and Handel's Messiah in its full and unabridged form weighs in at a hefty three hours...hardly a performance one wants to get stuck in. On the flip side, though I've had this ticket for weeks, after yesterday's stunningly poor performance by a different orchestra I would take just about anything to cleanse my palette.

What tonight's audience got was -- in the words of the gentleman sitting next to me -- "awesome". It hardly felt anywhere near the three hours it actually was, with only the last two verses beginning to challenge my attention span.. Though all four soloists were amazing, Amanda Crider was particularly enthralling. In the past I've been critical of Apollo's Fire as an organization that takes itself too seriously; that feeling was nonexistent tonight: It seemed that the group took a humble, respectful approach to the piece and it worked well. The orchestra, soloists, and chorus all had a wonderfully cohesive sound and maintained relative parity throughout with only a few moments where it seemed that the chorus could have been a bit louder.

Being at First Baptist, this was my first experience with Apollo's Fire at a venue other than St. Paul's and generally it was quite a positive change: Easier parking, more comfortable seating [though a even a padded church pew for the better part of 3 hours is pushing my back's limits] and acoustics that beautifully captured and reverberated the singer's voices.

In fact, I have only two complaints from the evening: The heating system kicked in a few times during the performance and loudly announced its presence with a sound that made me crave microwave popcorn, and at several points the performance stopped for rather lengthy tuning sessions which broke the flow... though I suppose I'd rather be comfortably warm and listen to an in-tune orchestra than the alternative.

The net result was the finest Messiah I can remember hearing. Though the Hallelujah and A Child Is Born choruses are, of course, the hallmarks of the piece there were few sections of this work that weren't enjoyable to listen to.

Two more options to hear this: Saturday, December 18th,, 8pm at First Baptist Church on Fairmount Boulevard in Shaker Heights or 5pm Sunday at St. Christopher Catholic Church, Rocky River.


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