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Handel: Sing-Along Messiah

Handel: Sing-Along Messiah

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HANDEL Sing-Along Messiah & Ivars Taurins, cond; Suzie LeBlanc (sop); Daniel Taylor (ct); Rufus Müller (ten); Locky Chung (bs); Tafelmusik CCh; Tafelmusik (period instruments) TAFELMUSIK 1008 (DVD: 76:20)

& Audio-only choral tracks by MODONVILLE, VIVALDI, BACH, HANDEL

When I received this disc I unwrapped it with some trepidation, even though it came from the new Tafelmusik label. While Messiah sing-alongs are a grand and popular tradition, at least in North America, the quality of these get-togethers seems, well, sorely lacking for the most part, no matter how dedicated the impromptu performers are. All right, so it is mainly for fun, and one does not begrudge a happy communal annual event, one I confess to having enjoyed on several occasions. But there is no doubt that however earnest the singers are, and however much good it does for making Handel’s iconic work a household name, the expectations for performance practical perfection are not, shall we say, high. Having it now presented as a DVD, two thoughts came to mind: Either it would be a film about such an event on a grand scale, or it might degenerate into one of those horrible “follow the bouncing ball” scenarios that I thought had died a merciful death back in the 1960s. I should have had more faith.

What came was almost an hour and a half of an enormously entertaining film by 90th Parallel Productions about what seems to have been an annual event taking place in Toronto for more than three decades (or at least that is what one of the participants states). The key to this is the effable director of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, Ivars Taurins, who plays the part of the irascible George (“because God is an Englishman and can’t say Georg”) Frederick Handel, hamming it up as the director punished by the Almighty as a joke to be sent back to earth annually to direct this thing. His paraphrase of the opening of Cabaret (“Even the sopranos are beautiful!”) is not to be missed. His straight people are the redoubtable Tafelmusik orchestra, which performs the truncated version of the oratorio with energy, precision, and good authentic performance practice. The others are the four soloists. Suzie LeBlanc’s clear soprano rings out brilliantly in her arias such as “Rejoice Greatly,” while tenor Rufus Müller easily handles (pun intended) the ebulent “Ev’ry Valley,” and countertenor Daniel Taylor, who is not given more than a tithe of the original contralto arias, smoothly and accurately conquers the changing moods of “But Who May Abide.” Bass Locky Chung almost derails on the shakes of “Thus Saith the Lord” but he provides a clarion partner to John Thiessen’s virtuoso trumpet in the famous aria of that name (and you all know which one I’m speaking of).

The best part, however, is the chorus, filling the entire hall like a political convention with placards indicating the four voices. To be sure, they too have backup in the form of the Tafelmusk choir standing behind the instruments, but when Taurins exhorts them to “raise the roof” at the Hallelujah chorus, one can feel the power and energy of the mass of voices. They are good, too, for if there are any tone-deaf enthusiasts among them, they are submerged in a superb wash of sound that would no doubt make the real Handel smile (that is, if he didn’t faint). What is more, they take the faster tempos of the conductor with hardly a falter or stumble.

In case you find it overwhelming, the DVD also includes a number of bonus audio tracks of a more serious nature. Granted, these are choral movements without any sort of cohesion, but it is a chance to compare the normal professional concerts of Tafelmusik’s choral and orchestral groups with the raucous and effervescent cast of hundreds.

What can one say? This is not just a community sing-along, it is a happening and one that demonstrates that such events can be done both joyously and efficiently. Taurins, of course, is the glue, and he provides continuity both through his rather pithy introduction, and with sporadic commentary throughout (even a gruff “Go home!” at the end as the credits roll by). If you are in the market for (yet another) period Messiah , this truncated version will probably not be for you. There are other DVDs or discs out there that will serve. But if you wish for some unmitigated fun, you should give this a try. For myself, I shall haul it out every Christmas, and who knows, if you are passing by you might even hear me warble along with crowd.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Tafelmusik
    • UPC/Barcode: 880513100851
    • Item Number: TMK1008DVD