This year the TSO used the Mozart arrangement for Handel’s Messiah (though, naturally enough, with the original English text). I have mixed feelings about it. It’s not hugely different in sound to whichever of Handel’s versions one is used to and it’s definitely not one of those 20th century versions for 100 piece orchestra and massed choirs but I’m hard pressed to see what the point is other than it’s Mozart.
The main differences lie in the woodwinds and harpsichord being used in recits rather than organ and some slightly weird use of the brass. Three trombones are used to thicken up parts of the choruses and there were horns abiding rather oddly in All We Like Sheep. I did like the partial conversion of For Unto Us a Child is Born from a chorus to a quartet for the soloists. Unless my ears and eyes were deceiving me the trumpet was restored last night to The Trumpet Shall Sound rather than Mozart’s trombone and horn. I also found myself wondering what sort of chorus Mozart would have used. Last night there were over 100 members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in the loft. Would Mozart have expected so many especially as he uses an orchestra not much larger than Handel envisaged (24 strings, winds, timpani last night)? It all sounded a bit “neither fish nor fowl” to me.
It was though a very accomplished performance with an excellent and well contrasted set of soloists. Jane Archibald’s bright soprano rang out across the cavern of Roy Thomson Hall. Her I Know That My Redeemer Liveth was tastefully oriented and a highlight of the night. Emily d’Angelo’s much smokier tones made the most of He Was Despised. Isaiah Bell was in good voice too, navigating his tricky opening recit and aria in fine style. Russell Braun was suitably magisterial in Why Do the Nations and The Trumpet Shall Sound. The blend was really nice in For Unto Us. Pretty much as good a quartet of soloists as I’ve heard in Messiah.
Alexander Shelley conducted. Tempi seemed pretty average. The orchestra was crisp. Transitions were well managed. The large choir did not actually sound overwhelming even in Hallelujah. So there it was; accomplished, efficient and musical. But, for me, not the sort of night that sends one home elated. Whether that was Mozart, too many Messiahs or too many sleepless nights from the construction on the Gardiner I’m not sure.
There are four more performances between now and Sunday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Jag Gundu