Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rocking Messiah!

We don't often get to hear the Messiah in Vilnius - there is no tradition of Messiah and Christmas. Which is a shame. So having it a couple of days ago, in May, was a real treat. The performance was even more of a treat!

It was a concert in memory of Menuhin, who toured the world with the Messiah, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, the Kaunas State Choir and the singer Benno Schollum, among others. 50 times they performed the piece in the 90s, when days were still dark in Lithuania. And now the days look slightly darkening again, what with the Government's handling of the economic crisis....But the ray of hope on the horizon is the new President, Ms Grybauskaite - though whether she has the power to change things is another question.

Anyway. This time it was the choir of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra (why that one?) consisting of exactly 15 men and 15 women - that's what I call a balanced choir! The soloists, all young, were Jana Mamanova, Lucia Duchonova, Eric Stoklossa, and Wiard Withold, an extremely tall Dutch bass; the conductor was the choirmaster of the Bamberg Choir, Rolf Beck.

Last year, in my music course, I listened to about 9 interpretations of the introduction to the Messiah - they were all incredibly different, some lush, some punchy, some on 'original' instruments, some on modern instruments (in the case of strings that might mean instruments older than 'original' instruments). This performance was very punchy indeed, almost percussive in places. Very different from the Menuhin interpretation.  But it was sublime - there were moments of extreme pianissimo (where the choir sang a capella) followed by outbursts from the orchestra. The soloists were all wonderful; Withold had by far the best English diction. Some American friends said that they found it funny, seeing Germans sing it in English, when they (the Murricans) tended to sing it in German.  But English was what Handel wrote it in.

I had not appreciated before the sheer emotional power of the Messiah; that aria 'he was despised, rejected...' and that other aria where he is alone, looking around 'for someone to take pity on him' - that is really, really heartbreaking stuff. I should listen to it more often....

Funny moment with the Hallelujah. I could not remember whether in Lithuania it was traditional to stand during this chorus; as it approached my tension was rising. It seems not. When it started I saw half a dozen people stand in the rear of the hall (at least two of them Lithuanian Americans), so I stood up, in the front of the hall. Whereupon the people from the 'celebrity row' followed, and in a whoosh, the rest of the hall. It slightly fell apart afterwards because a number of people applauded, but never mind. At the end the performers got a standing ovation; they launched into an encore, we sat down, it was the Hallelujah chorus again, we shot out of our seats.