Arts » Classical Music

ISO Messiah sells out at Palladium

Guest conductor takes liberties with tempo and dynamics

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Indianapolis Symphonic Choir
  • Indianapolis Symphonic Choir

All things being--as they say--equal, Sunday evening's performance of George Frideric Handel's mainstay oratorio, Messiah, was a good one. Billed as being sold out, a presumed group of no-shows revealed empty seats here and there in the Carmel Palladium's 1600-seat hall. Youthful guest conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley moved his body and his hands on the podium in a balletic fashion, perhaps calling undo attention to himself. Yet both his Baroque-sized orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir followed his dictates with great precision in treading from slow to fast and from soft to loud--even with no such indication in the score.

No better example of this "taking liberties" was found in "Hallelujah" at the end of the second part--the world's most famous excerpt from the world's most beloved oratorio. Quigley began it very softly before swelling it up to full volume. And at the chorus' end he sped his forces up, presumably to generate more excitement, excitement intrinsic to the music itself .

Conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley
  • Conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley

Moreover Quigley cut ten numbers from the 52-piece oratorio, reducing the playing time to under 2 1/2 hours. Interestingly he kept the alto aria, "He was despis-ed and rejec-ted of men," known for its excessive repetition of that line. But he cut back its da capos (repeats) and its inordinate length to a tolerable degree, for once the right "interpretive" move. Quigley has a first-class conducting talent which perhaps will benefit from greater maturity.

A definite plus for this performance was that the choir diction was strikingly audible, even from my perch in the Palladium's lofty Gallery. This was in no small part due to scaling back the 184-member choir to only 54 choristers, and these 54 singing with great precision, for which credit is at least partly owed to Quigley. Choir director Ed Stark also deserves kudos. This diction made one of Handel's greatest choruses, "Lift up your Heads," with its antiphonal female-male interchanges, especially moving.

It has always interested me that Handel used the trumpets and timpani quite sparingly, the trumpets first sampled in the chorus, "Glory to God" in Part 1. The next time is at the end of Part 2 in "Hallelujah!" wherein both trumpets and timpani appeared. In Part 3 a trumpet solo is prominent, expectedly, in the bass aria, "The Trumpet Shall Sound." And both trumpets and timpani appear in the mighty concluding chorus, "Worthy is the Lamb," as well as in the concluding fugue, "Amen!."

The four vocal soloists--soprano Joélle Harvey (who sang the previous evening in the ISO's Classical Christmas), mezzo Dianna Moore, tenor Colin Balzer and baritone Troy Cooke all did creditable jobs if not outstanding. The two female singers shared a glowing rendition of the oratorio's most beautiful aria, "He Shall Feed His Flock."

In closing this review, I'd like to suggest that it would be interesting to hear Quigley's approach to Messiah five to ten years from now (it may not be yours truly). Dec. 13

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