The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of December 20, 2009.
by D.S. Crafts
The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra is back. But only because of the exorbitant generosity of the players who, for the good of the community, agreed to a scandalous pay cut. What they now make, given their talent and standing in the musical world, is little more than a joke. In returning, they are owed a significant debt of gratitude that must not be forgotten and a situation that certainly cannot continue.
Ironically enough, the Symphony returns with a feast of glorious voices, not to be missed, in Handel's Messiah. The time off did nothing to dull the edge of Roger Melone's brilliant NMSO chorus, singing this choral spectacle with the panache and confidence of an ensemble at the top of its game. Melone, who conducted the entirety of the musical forces, often has the chorus begin almost in understatement then quickly building to its full dynamic potential.
The vocal soloists are all first-rate. From his initial notes, it became clear that tenor Michael Colvin possesses a voice of uncommon beauty. His sweet, lyrical sound is completely unforced and wonderfully demonstrated in the opening “Comfort Ye/Every Valley.” One would be hard-pressed to hear a better version anywhere. The tasteful ornamentation he employs in the melodic line is not only acceptable but a fundamental feature of this style of music.
David Grogan lends a powerful air of gravitas with his rich, deep baritone, beginning at his first pronouncement and continuing through to the great bass aria “The trumpet shall sound,” which came off with considerable majesty.
Countertenor Scot Cameron sings the alto part, lending his clear, ringing and brilliantly focused sound to the part, which will be something of a surprise to those not familiar with the high bittersweet timbre of this vocal style. In his opening aria, the words “like a refiner's fire” had a palpable combustion. His transitions from top to bottom range were exquisitely seamless especially in the aria “he was despised and rejected,” which makes considerable demands.
Soprano Mary Ellen Callahan, a frequent soloist with the American Bach Society, is the last of the soloists to make an entry. Her first aria “Rejoice greatly” coming after the Pastoral Symphony was filled with the grace of a singer whose technique is artless (meaning natural, thoroughly without artifice).
In assembling a collection of Handel's greatest hits, one could hardly do better than simply playing the Messiah. Most every number can be counted among the gems of baroque music.
As tradition has it, the audience stands for the Hallelujah Chorus just as at the first performance King George, so overwhelmed by the grandeur and power of the music, rose to his feet. That is how it should be: the king standing for the composer. Political figures are transient. Handel will endure for as long as people play music.