This review appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of December 9, 1997.
The holiday season has come and so, too, Handel's ``Messiah.'' For those who wonder ``why `Messiah,' '' Roger Melone and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus gave a definitive answer Friday night in the near-full Popejoy Hall.
To go without ``Messiah'' in some form would border on having no Christmas tree or no special Christmas meal. When done as well as it was Friday, the music reaches deep into the heart, bringing us back to the true meaning of the season. We forget the shopping, the cooking, the rushing about, and remember its joyous spiritual message.
Directing from the harpsichord, Roger Melone moved with purposeful, sustained intensity through the 2.5 hours of Handel's music. With a compact corps of musicians---39 choristers and 28 instrumentalists---he shaped a pure, finely paced interpretation that paid attention to subtle nuances of the Baroque style. The delicacy and clarity of the strings, particularly in the ornamentation, proved an ongoing pleasure. The liquid beauty of Doug Carlsen's trumpet in ``The trumpet shall sound'' also deserves notice.
The chorus, which seems to get better and better with each performance, sang with unfailing responsiveness and sensitivity. Every section was solid, the balance excellent as they met Handel's varied demands. They found a crisp delicacy for such passages as ``And He shall purify'' and ``His yoke is easy and His burthen is light.'' A satisfyingly rich power was imparted to the ringing affirmations like ``Glory to God in the highest'' and the great ``Hallelujah'' chorus.
Most importantly, their singing had an emotional transparency that allowed the music to speak with its own strength. Under Melone's pointed rhythmic drive the notes unfolded in flickering shades of light and dark, like the chiaroscuro of Baroque painting. Only occasionally, as in the opening of part two, ``Behold the Lamb,'' did the rhythmic drive become overly emphatic, punchy rather than poignant.
The soloists for the most part entered fully into Melone's concept. Only bass Bradley Ellingboe seemed out of step. Most of his passages were projected with a breathy expressive excess that belonged to another period.
After the initial orchestral ``Sinfonia,'' tenor Karl Dent gave the oratorio a solid opening thrust with his ``Comfort ye My people.'' Using his strong, even voice with a sure stylistic grasp, he projected Handel's intentions intelligently and expressively. The consistency of his performance offered one of the evening's special pleasures.
Counter-tenor Dale Terbeek got off to a slow start. His initial solos were marred by a tight, strained quality, especially in the upper reaches. But he loosened up as the evening went on, finding a warmer, more expressive tone. His performance, like that of Dent, was infused with a solid knowledge of the style and sense of graceful ornamentation. Their brief duet, ``O death where is thy sting?'' was an exquisite match, a moment of delight.
Soprano Patti Spain's clear, pure sound and fluid sense of line lent her solos a notable expressiveness, particularly in the recitatives. Her final air, ``If God be for us,'' with its finely shaped ornamentation, brought a special grace to the oratorio's closing measures.