The Holiday Season in Boston has officially arrived! The Handel and Hadyn Society, founded in Boston in 1815 and gearing up to celebrate its Bicentennial in 2015, marks its 158th year of Messiah. Under the careful direction of conductor Harry Christophers, this year’s production features soprano Sarah Coburn, countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, tenor Tom Randle, and baritone Tyler Duncan.
Sitting in the one hundred year old hall, it is hard not to be swept away by the majesty of any performance. Harry Christophers’ Messiah, however, is a rare treat– for a story so familiar this production is like hearing it for the first time. Performed by the Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus, Messiah begins as one might expect, with a beautiful but restrained joy. It isn’t until Tom Randle moves toward the conductor and delivers his first tenor notes that the hall truly resounds. Randle, who performed in the Handel and Hadyn Society’s 2009 production of Messiah, is clearly committed to—and moved by—the piece, his part delivered with intense passion and commitment.
Tyler Duncan’s baritone serves a fitting compliment to Randle’s strong tenor. Making his debut with the Society, British Columbia-born and New York-based Ducan delivers deep and carefully modulated tones, a testament to his consummate skill and range. Much like Randle’s striking entrance into the performance, Lawrence Zazzo’s first notes are breathtaking—where Randle and Duncan skillfully hold down the mid- to lower-registers, Zazzo serves to span and bridge to the upper-registers in a haunting countertenor. Like Randle, too, Zazzo’s immersion in the piece is apparent—to the point that he seems, at times, almost possessed by the music, delivering notes as if they can no longer be contained. The virtuosity of Zazzo is expertly matched by Sarah Coburn’s powerful soprano. This performance marks Coburn’s return to the Society after performing in Hadyn’s L’anima del filosofo (Orfeo) in 2009. Her commanding voice pairs seamlessly with Zazzo’s at the end of part one.
The lead performers highlight the depth and breadth of Handel’s composition; however, not enough can be said for the all-encompassing power of the chorus—who rightfully received the most fervent applause upon the evening’s conclusion. Precise and jubilant, nowhere is their energy more electric, more enthralling than in the magnificent Hallelujah chorus that ends part two. While it is customary for the audience to stand, those in attendance are clearly compelled by the grandeur of the music to rise in deference to the piece. Not only does the chorus serve to unite all parts of the composition, but the guiding notes of Jesse Levine’s and Paul Perfetti’s trumpets— delightfully surprisingly placed— envelope the entire hall. Of the evening’s cheer-inspiring pieces, this one tops the list.
After such a wonderful performance of Messiah, it is safe to say that the remainder of 2011-2012 season of the Handel and Hadyn Society will be worth attending. That is, if you are fortunate enough to get your hands on tickets.