Messiah – Sacred Oratorio in three parts to a libretto by Charles Jennens taken from the King James & Great Bibles [sung in English]
Amanda Forsythe (soprano), John Holiday (countertenor), Nicholas Phan (tenor) & Kevin Deas (bass-baritone)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 14 December, 2021
Venue: Riverside Church, New York City
The sounds of Handel rang joyously in Riverside Church for this distinguished performance of Messiah led by Jeannette Sorrell. In an impressive New York Philharmonic debut, Sorrell – who founded Apollo’s Fire in 1992 – elicited stylish and agile playing and stirring singing for an evening full of drama and vitality. For most of it, Sorrell kept the volume of the reduced orchestra well below that of the singers. Tempos did not lag, and the strings, playing with a minimum of vibrato, sounded supple and elegant, and Christopher Martin’s gleaming trumpet work was spectacular during Part III. The forty members of Apollo’s Singers performed with rich and vigorous timbre, demonstrating remarkable diction, precision, and attention to phrasing.
The four soloists, all first-rate and each with a distinctive dramatic edge, were well matched to this conception of the work. In addition to singing their individual airs and recitatives, they also sang as members of the chorus. Amanda Forsythe used her shimmering and sinuous soprano, ideally suited to this music, to brighten all the moments it graced. She displayed extraordinary fluidity and radiant top notes in the more ornate passages, especially the coloratura of ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion’. Equally affecting was the uncommonly charismatic John Holiday. His brilliant and beautiful countertenor sounded exceptionally rich, and the directness and intensity of his delivery was mesmerizing, most notably in ‘Arise, shine, for thy light is come’. Nicholas Phan performed the difficult tenor part with wonderfully vibrant tone, vividly characterizing every verse. He imbued the opening recitative ‘Comfort ye, my people’ with heartfelt tenderness, brought thrilling boldness to ‘Ev’ry Valley shall be exalted’ and displayed intense compassion in ‘Behold, and see’. Kevin Deas exhibited imposing authority and control in ‘Why do the nations so furiously rage together’ and had his very best moments in his exuberant rendition of ‘The trumpet shall sound’, one of the many highlights of this touching and memorable performance of Handel’s revered oratorio.