There was something tangible about Friday evening’s performance of Handel’s Messiah with the Philadelphia Orchestra, featuring a host of opera notables and the large-scale Philadelphia Voices choir, that made the otherwise massive Verizon Hall feel like an intimate chamber venue. Indeed, there was all of the fanfare and glorious music that is associated with the iconic holiday work, but underneath those layers, Yannick Nézet-Séguin was able to lead his musical troupes to a notably warm and dear sound that was remarkably tender.
It was through that distilling of the score that Handle’s underlying ethos was on full display, and it helped, tremendously, that the Orchestra brought together an outstanding group of soloists, all who were excellent in their own right. Soprano Karina Gauvin, fresh from her stints at the Glyndebourne Festival and the Theater des Champs-Elysées, brought great emotional appeal to her solos, as did Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill in her return to the Orchestra after a 2013 debut. British tenor Andrew Staples was also very good, handling his arias with great flair.
However, countertenor Christophe Dumaux and bass Matthew Rose were the highlights of the evening. Dumaux, who recently starred opposite Natalie Dessay in Handel’s Julius Caesar and who is a regular at Glyndebourne, demonstrated an impassioned interpretation of the score, and is voice was, quite simply, stunning, full of rich complexities and a tight control of technique. He may very well be the best countertenor I’ve ever heard, period. The audience was also in awe of Rose’s work, who is a Curtis Institute graduate and Royal Opera House Young Artist, plus Met Opera regular. Rose brought a powerful tone and during many of his arias, you couldn’t help but feel a legitimate chill run down your spine as he sang.
Of course, the Philadelphia Voices Choir was in top form, and received a lengthy and well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the nearly three-hour evening. The same could be said for the Orchestra who, once again, demonstrated why they are considered one of the best in the world. It may have felt like spring outside, with temperatures that were in the 60s, but this holiday concert clearly left listeners ready to sing a glorious “Hallelujah!”
The Philadelphia Orchestra is offering more holiday offerings now through the start of the new year. Read our piece that previews some of the upcoming concerts.