Hallelujah for a beautiful ‘Messiah’: We can barely wait for the English orchestra to return to Copenhagen.
Mogens Dahl’s version of the ’Messiah’ exuded discreet melodiousness and intense bel canto.
Comfort. The English tenor, James Way, let the first words of the night emanate from nothing. Everything was intense, but quiet and slow. The strings undulated unobtrusively. The harpsichord rustled equally quietly in the back of the sound image. Wayne’s voice grew in strength, the temperament of the music gained gravitas. And then we were off – and, for the next two and-a-half hours, neither the orchestra, the choir nor the soloists looked back.
Mogens Dahl’s version of the ‘Messiah’ sounded really good this year. Discreet, clean, light and simple. The musicians of the English Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment had brought their normal, accurate harmony to Copenhagen and the four young soloists aroused more than ordinary joy. The musicians, the choir and the conductor maintained the style of previous years, and it was accomplished and convincing.
Was something missing to create a measure of resistance? Something surprising in the middle of the intense listening to the beautiful sound? Perhaps.
This was about simple beauty
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is an orchestra which likes to do the unexpected to well-known works, and usually does so with enough insight and knowledge that they are able to change common perceptions of music. However, this was not their agenda with the ‘Messiah’ and Copenhagen. This was about simple beauty.
In that sense, Mogens Dahl’s Chamber Choir with just 16 singers was a perfect collaborator for the orchestra. They both cultivated the simple and slim ideals of sound, where they only went wide a few times to provide greater effect. Even the famous Hallelujah choir that end the 2nd part sounded intimate and intense, rather than violent and overwhelming.
It was with a twinkle in the eye and a dramatic rubber face that the 27-year-old contra tenor Jakub Józef Orlinski carried the contralto part among the four soloists. Choosing a contra tenor rather than a deep female voice lent the voices a different balance, because the voice of the Polish Orlinski had a really very dark spicy tone, and this left the Danish Denise Beck to be the one providing the light. She has previously participated successfully, so it was no surprise how well her clear, clean voice suited Handel’s arias. However, that does not subtract from her performance.
The Canadian bass baritone handled the soloists’ deepest arias beautifully. When the darkness befell the Christians of the music, Gordon Bintner let it spread with a power and a focus that was almost frightening. He was a really cool singer, and he also managed to improvise a bit with the melodies towards the end.
The pain and the melodiousness
I would be surprised if the orchestra and Mogens Dahl would not be able to also provide us with a convincing new contribution next year, which also challenges all the many standardised performances of the ‘Messiah’ that fill the churches during December?
It was beautiful and meaningful hearing the orchestra painting tonal picture when the text encouraged it. When they created crackling fire with lightning-fast strokes or created a closed and dark timbre when the night of the Bible verses covered the world.
But why not deal with some of Handel’s paradoxes, too? Why not do something with the soprano’s sweet and naive melody, for example, when she sings harshly about the worms devouring her body?
They have a good grasp of the pain and the melodiousness. However, many of the Bible fragments also hide a good deal of madness when you listen to them in 2018. We know the ’Messiah’ well enough that Handel can withstand some more resistance.
After the many words and melodies, finally, only a discrete floating mass of sound was left. A long, stretched-out ‘amen’ that wound its way between singers and musicians, as if this Christian world of text and tones was melting away into nothing before a few, final, harmonic nails were struck as a farewell salute.
The wait for the English orchestra to return to Copenhagen to provide their addictive 18th-century delicious sound is almost unbearable.