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Messiah’ combines great music, performances

Michelle Fordice | Monday, December 5, 2005

The Leighton Concert Hall in the Marie P. DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts filled with the sounds of “Hallelujah” and “Hosanna” on Friday and Saturday night as the University of Notre Dame Chorale and Chamber Orchestra presented their annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”

With its stunning music and triumphant atmosphere of celebration, Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the most long-lived and beloved Christmas traditions. The University of Notre Dame Chorale and Chamber Orchestra did not fail to inspire with their performance of this wonderful piece.

Handel’s “Messiah” is a fantastic performance for every audience member. Its elegant melody is emphasized by its strong focus on choir, soloists and orchestra. It benefits from using all of these elements instead of just focusing on one. Familiarity also makes it a great performance for frequent attendees of classical musical performances. Likewise, it is just as enjoyable for new audience members.

The libretto of “Messiah” comes primarily from the Church of England’s “Book of Common Prayer” and is in English, which allows for easy understanding. Nearly everyone has heard the popular “Hallelujah” chorus at least once. The universal appeal of “Messiah” is one of the best reasons for its longevity.

Composed circa 1741, Handel’s “Messiah” has been rewritten and rearranged on numerous occasions and by many different musicians, including Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and often is changed each time it is performed.

Director Alexander Blachly continues this tradition, selecting only certain pieces of “Messiah” to perform. He chose for his choir to sing primarily Part I, which focuses on texts about the prophecy of and birth of Jesus Christ, and Part II, which focuses on texts about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. He also included two numbers from Part III, which focuses on writings about general resurrection, and ended with the most famous section of “Messiah,” the “Hallelujah” chorus.

Commenting on the Christian themes in “Messiah,” Blachley said, “for anyone who was raised in the Christian tradition, Handel’s musical settings of the familiar words of scripture have an irresistibly reassuring effect.”

The University of Notre Dame Chorale and Chamber Orchestra’s performance was a success. The orchestra and choir balanced each other throughout the show and gave a strong performance. Blachly showcased the talent of the Chorale by selecting eleven different singers for the piece’s various solos. All did a commendable job with difficult solo parts. The Chorale and Chamber Orchestra managed to captivate their audience from the first measure until the last chord.

Michael Suso, president of the Chorale, said, “To be able to perform such a magnificent piece of music in an outstanding concert hall in front of an enthusiastic audience was extremely gratifying. I am thoroughly pleased with both performances and only hope that our audiences took as much pleasure in listening to Handel’s ‘Messiah’ as we did in performing it.”

The University of Notre Dame Chorale is Notre Dame’s official concert choir. Specializing in works that range from the Renaissance to the present, including pieces by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Stravinsky, the Chorale’s 55 voices have a very strong, precise and beautiful sound. This sound complimented the intricacies and range of “Messiah” perfectly. They can be heard again in both their concert and their tour in the spring.

The University of Notre Dame Chamber Orchestra is a select ensemble of students that performs both with the Chorale and independently in its own concerts. Because there are only one or two instruments for each part, the musician’s are all very skilled.

From the opening overture to the final “Hallelujah,” the Notre Dame Choral and Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” was a wonderful experience and a great beginning to the Christmas season.