Sometimes you want to be on the edge of your seat. At other times, it is nice to use the whole thing.
On Sunday, it was time to sit back and take in the glory of Handel’s “Messiah,” delivered with power and emotion by the San Juan Symphony, Durango Choral Society and Farmington’s Ficus Voces at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. Nearly 140 musicians and singers, led, as always, by the engaging Arthur Post, provided an ideal sanctuary on a cold, snowy afternoon.
For a non-churchgoer like myself, “Messiah” is the most palatable of sermons and one through which I’m happy to sit. It has been a while since I’ve endured one, spoken or sung, but like so much, it comes back quickly. You need only to hear the piercing arias, delivered this day first by soprano Gemma Kavanagh and alternated with mezzo Laura Thoreson, to feel the passion of the music Handel laid beneath the already sacred text (conveniently written in English, which may add to “Messiah’s” long-running popularity in America.)
I don’t know if “Messiah” as Handel and lyricist Charles Jennens originally envisioned it would be as popular with today’s audiences. Their original three-part oratorio included 53 movements. Post pared it down substantially, selecting a 21-movement “Best of The Messiah” program that ran seamlessly with no intermission for about 90 minutes.
Neither Kavanagh nor Thoreson was cheated of their arias, and Post’s selections were a fine mix that alternately highlighted the talents of both ladies as well as the larger chorus and the orchestra. Such variety prevents the monotony of more traditional “sermons,” musical or otherwise.
The singers far outnumbered the instrumentalists Sunday, but the truncated orchestra was more than enough to carry the action.
Linda Mack Berven’s turn on the harpsichord added wonderful period authenticity. It was a female-dominated chorus that could have benefited from a few more basses and baritones, but not to the point of distraction – just something I noticed from my perch high in the balcony of the Concert Hall (which, incidentally, is a great place to sit when there are 140 people on stage).
By the end, my soul was soothed to the point where I could barely make it to my feet for the traditional standing tribute to the “Hallelujah!” chorus. But I and the sellout crowd stood and stayed that way through the final notes and the well-deserved curtain call afterward.
The groups also performed “Messiah” on Saturday night at Henderson Hall in Farmington.