The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra recently presented George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, the first concert in its Specials series.
Under the baton of director Rosemary Thomson, the performance featured the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, the OSO Chorus along with special guest soprano Kallie Clayton, countertenor Shane Hanson, tenor Owen McCausland and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus. A sold-out house attested to the fact that this OSO concert has become a seasonal tradition.
Thomson conducted an inspired performance of this substantial work, easily holding the 119 performers together. Tempi were well thought out and appropriate for the musical complexity. Lovely phrasing coupled with intelligent dynamics brought a finely-honed sparkle to the music, and the use of strings without vibrato gave an authentic baroque touch. Finally, the tonal balance between instrumentalists, chorus and soloists was handled with ease and confidence. The performance felt well-paced and polished with every musician absolutely committed to the result.
The concert owed a great deal of its success to the talent and musical abilities of the vocal soloists. From tenor Owen McCausland’s first “Comfort ye my people,” the audience knew it was in good hands. McCausland sang his role with total involvement, producing fluid, golden tones and effortlessly tossing off 16th-note passages with jaw-dropping ease.
Bass Stephen Hegedus sang with a robust and energetic ringing tone. His “The people that walked in darkness” highlighted his tremendous range with shiver-inducing low notes, while “The trumpet shall sound” drove forward with relentless energy—clearly the high point of Hegedus’s performance. And speaking of the trumpet, kudos to Audrey Patterson for her exquisite piccolo trumpet playing throughout, especially on this air.
The programming of a countertenor instead of a contralto provided an interesting and engaging note of authenticity to this performance. Shane Hanson’s falsetto was beautifully rich and clean, and his understanding of the music resulted in a deeply communicative delivery of such movements as He Was Despised.
Soprano Kallie Clayton was confident and assured, easily plucking high notes from thin air. Her gorgeous tones, like rippling liquid sunshine, were absolutely precise. From her first “There were shepherds abiding in the field” to her warm “I know that my redeemer liveth,” Clayton’s performance was a real pleasure.
The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra chorus sang with total commitment and surprising technical ability for an amateur ensemble. Thomson made sure that attention was paid to phrasing and dynamics. The ensemble of chorus and orchestra was amazingly tight throughout, especially considering that Thomson placed the three trumpets for Glory to God behind the audience. The resulting quadrophonic effect was spine-tingling and perfectly in time.
Of course, any discussion of the Messiah would not be complete without making special mention of the Hallelujah Chorus. The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Chorus did not disappoint, delivering the ringing tones with energy and enthusiasm. The audience stood spontaneously for this movement and roared its approval at the conclusion.
If it were possible to transmute the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s heart-felt musical expression into electric joules from sonic jewels, we would have enough energy to light and warm the darkest corners of the world.
Anita Perry has written works for orchestra, concert band, ballets and musicals. She teaches piano in Summerland.
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