Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall – Handel’s Messiah

Messiah – Sacred Oratorio in three parts to a libretto by Charles Jennens taken from the King James & Great Bibles [sung in English]

Kathryn Lewek (soprano), Daniel Moody (countertenor), Martin Bakari (tenor) & John Brancy (baritone)

Oratorio Society of New York
Kent Tritle

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 December, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Since it first performed the work on Christmas Day, 1874, at the now long-gone Steinway Hall, the Oratorio Society of New York’s annual traversal of Handel’s Messiah has become a holiday tradition.

The orchestra’s superb intonation of the opening Sinfonia established the overall mood and set the stage for Martin Bakari’s compassionate rendition of “Comfort ye, my people”, dispatched with splendid sound and appealing sincerity. Hisfervent and powerful tenor created an atmosphere of urgency and elation in the vigorous “Every valley shall be exalted”.  

The most thrillingsolo singing came from Kathryn Lewek. Her wide-ranging, richly glowing soprano was at its best in a highly animated account of “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion”. Her “How beautiful are the feet” wasreplete with devout feeling, while her radiant and uplifting “I know that my Redeemer liveth” displayed fluidity and impressive command.

Daniel Moody was another standout. His full countertenor – buoyant, fluid, effortless, and expressive – brought impeccable diction, vocal authority, and ethereal elegance to his part. He was wonderfully dramatic in “He was despised and rejected of men”, sung with passion and conviction.

John Brancy’s deep and vibrant bass-baritone added welcome weight to the narrative. His powerful voice and strong stage presence lent a sense of impending gravity to “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” His rendition of “The trumpet shall sound” was appropriately exultant, spurred on by Maximilian Morel’s clarion trumpet.

Leading the forces with bravura, precision and commitment, music director Kent Tritle created emotion, energy, and excitement. His graceful gestures and masterful variations in tempo and dynamics injected Handel’s opus with vigor and life. The 200-strong chorus, sounding plush and full-bodied, sang with pinpoint diction, impeccable tonal blend, and stimulating energy, and it was thrilling to hear the 33-member orchestra perform with such exuberance and expression, with expert contributions from Rachel Handman on violin, Dianne Lesser on oboe, and top-notch timpani-playing at the ends of Parts 2 and 3 was a key element in this concert’s overall feeling of jubilance.

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