Renewed by the Wonders of Handel
By Bryce Christensen
“Christmas renews our youth by stirring our wonder.” So remarked Protestant clergyman Ralph Sockman. The youth-renewing wonder of great Christmas music moved through the hearts of the
hundreds who gathered at Cedar City’s Heritage Center on December 14th and 15th for the 74th production of Handel’s Messiah, performed by the Orchestra of Southern Utah (OSU) and a municipal Chorale. From the subdued majesty of the opening strains of the Overture to the reverberating power of the final Amens in “Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain,” the audience felt the renewing magic of this truly wonderful composition.
After the orchestra instrumentalists had concluded their beautiful performance of the introductory Overture, bass Brandon Grayson stepped into the spotlight as vocal soloist for “Comfort Ye My People” and “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted,” rendering the first with an imploring tenderness and the second with a bracing vigor.
As the first of the evening’s nine vocal soloists, Grayson set a marvelously high standard, a standard maintained by all eight of the other soloists. What is especially remarkable is that not one of these very talented vocalists was featured as a soloist for the 2013 performance of the Messiah. Adrianne J. Tawa—director of the Chorale—is to be commended for finding and preparing an entirely new set of soloists, so giving the audience the pleasure of hearing nine fresh and vibrant new voices.
Tawa also deserves high praise for her work in preparing the Chorale as a whole, their superb collective preparation first manifesting itself in the exultant chorus “And the Glory of the Lord.” The hours of preparation under inspired leadership also manifested themselves in way the Chorale delivered the rhapsodic triumph of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” the seraphic transports of “Glory to God,” the transcendent assurance of “His Yoke Is Easy,” the insistent cadences of “All We Like Sheep,” and the regal affirmation of “Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain.”
As the evening’s second soloist, alto Sarah Stout impressed listeners with her pellucid “Behold! A Virgin Shall Conceive,” followed by a compellingly jubilant “O Thou That Tellest.”
After Stout completed her performance, the Orchestra performed the Pastoral Symphony¸ performing the entire number without stage lights, the shrouding of darkness suggesting to the audience that long-ago night split by the dazzling light of angels announcing the Savior’s birth.
A celestial soprano, Leslie Perkins indeed then brought something heavenly into her solo performance of “There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Field,” “And the Angel Said Unto Them,” and “And Suddenly There Was With the Angel.”
With perfect poise, soprano Jen Hinton advanced the sublime narrative with the luminous hope of “Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened” and the inspiring confidence of “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd.”
Soprano Marlo Ihler then modulated the tone with the piercing pathos of her “Come Unto Me.”
The mood then shifted to one of astonished thanksgiving as soprano Jacklyn Thompson performed her brilliant “How Beautiful Are the Feet.”
Performing to great advantage one of the Messiah’s often-omitted numbers, soprano Brook Alldredge infused into “Thou Art Gone Up on High” the high amazement of a moral redeemed by the Lord’s redemptive conquest over darkness.
As the evening’s penultimate soloist, soprano Rimi Fletcher made “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” lambent with radiant testimony.
And as the concert’s final soloist, bass Glen Reber plumbed profound spiritual depths in “Behold, I Tell You a Mystery” before breaking into the irresistible proclamation of “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” the deep intensity of his voice contrasting memorably with the flashing luster of instrumentalist Laura Bird’s trumpet solo on this number.
(Like Grayson’s opening solo, Reber’s concluding solo might have left audience members wishing that they had heard one or two additional male soloists. However, the pronounced gender imbalance in the Chorale left listeners with no doubt as to the challenge of finding local male voices prepared to take on this kind of challenge.)
Though the vocalists commanded center stage for most of the evening, conductor Xun Sun merits favorable mention for the irrepressible passion of his direction and the thoroughness of his work in preparing the orchestra for this exceptional holiday concert. Just as the vocalists responded masterfully to Tawa’s direction, so, too, the instrumentalists clearly rose to the challenges that Sun placed before them.
And though all of these skilled musicians deserve applause for their performance, it was entirely appropriate that at the conclusion of the concert, violinist June Thorley received special recognition.
Alone among this year’s concert performers, Thorley has—astonishingly—participated
As sponsors of a concert redolent with such youth-renewing wonder, the Leavitt Group and the State Bank of Southern Utah truly gave the community a matchless gift!