Posts Tagged ‘Jordi Savall’

Performances of Handel’s most famous oratorio in December are a tradition of English-speaking countries gradually taking over continental Europe and beyond. This is my second Messiah in France, one particularly pan-European, if one has in mind that chorus, orchestra and conductor are imports from Barcelona and that countertenor and bass were born this side of the English Channel, i.e. La Manche.

Before I speak of the concert, some words must be said about the venue. Its extremely resonant acoustics make it difficult to assess the music-making this evening. I would even say that, without intervention to tame the echo-chamber-like impression, it shouldn’t be used for concerts at all. As it is, although there is a nice glow to the chorus and the orchestra, divisions sound blurred and it can be quite testing for singers.

Jordi Savall is a pioneer in historically informed performances whose interest in Bach and Monteverdi are widely acknowledged, but whose curiosity for Handel has been steadily increasing. Mr. Savall is a self-effacing conductor whose respect for composers involve the eschewal of effects and the search for naturalness. His performance this evening was so honest that it could be called prudent. He clearly sees the work of a non-operatic point of view (which could be called the default these days) and seems to be comfortable with the atmosphere of the spiritual concert   that took place in Dublin under the composer’s supervision. But Handel was an opera composer above anything else, and in numbers like Why do the nations rage so furiously together?, a more vivid approach would have been welcome.

In any case, the crowning glories of this performance were the Concert des Nations’s warm strings and polished trumpets and the exquisite choral singing offered by the Capella Reial de Catalunya, homogeneous yet colourful and expressive throughout. Due to the hall’s resonance, I wouldn’t be able to comment on their pronunciation, though.

I am not truly convinced that countertenors are the best option for He was despised, but Damien Guillon (whose beard makes him looks like Marcel Proust) sounded small-scaled and monochromatic in these unfavorable acoustics. Tenor Nicholas Mulroy too was hard to hear, especially low notes. On the other hand, Matthias Winckler poured voluminous rich sounds, flexible enough for the coloratura and ductile enough for softer dynamic effects. I leave again the best for last, the bell-toned Rachel Redmond sang the soprano part with such spontaneous musicality that one almost had the impression that Handel wrote it for her. She is the kind of soprano whose low register is so appealing that one never feels sorry when her cadenze go downwards rather than upwards. Rejoice, greatly was the only number when I felt that the conductor was rushing things, but Ms. Redmond produced crystalline fioriture without sounding frantic or desperate. She was clearly the audience’s favorite, especially after singing a truly heartfelt I know that my redeemer liveth.


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