Sir Andrew Davis is in town conducting his own orchestration of Handel’s Messiah. In the modern world this is probably as close as it gets to Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Huddersfield Choral Society. He conducts the TSO with brass and woodwinds that Handel never saw and lots of percussion including snare drum, sleigh bells, tambourines and marimba. He also has the not inconsiderable heft of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
That said, in some ways this is quite a modern Messiah. Tempi, for the most part, are HIP brisk and in places the orchestration is lightened up, for example in the opening of “I know that my redeemer liveth” which uses only solo strings and clarinet. The use of percussion is mostly pretty deft though I think there are places that won’t suit everyone. Like others before him, Sir Andrew rather uses “All we like sheep” for comic relief with some brass writing, assuming what was played was what was written, which sounded disturbingly like the “goat meme”.
The soloist quartet was interesting; certainly not an Identikit Messiah package. Using a genuine bass, John Relyea, for the bass numbers provided a very different sound from the more usual baritone. I liked it a lot. The tenor was Andrew Staples who combined some heft, beauty of tone and King’s College diction to good effect. Liz DeShong sang all the mezzo numbers. I love her smokey voice though once or twice it got lost in the Roy Thomson acoustic black hole. Erin Wall had a bit of a mixed night. I strongly suspect she wasn’t 100% as her breathing was clearly audible in “Rejoice greatly”. She got better as the night went on and pulled out an affecting and beautiful “I know that my redeemer liveth”. The chorus was exactly what one expects from the TMC in a work like this.
So, very different from an HIP Messiah but not really the overblown Huddersfield Town Hall approach either. Sir Andrew’s orchestration has a few WTF moments but it’s never dull. He’s as exciting to watch as ever and it’s an interesting blend of solo voices.
The TSO’s Messiah plays again at Roy Thomson Hall tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm.
Photo credit: Malcolm Cook