The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra presented Handel's oratorio "The Messiah" at Atlanta's St. Phillip Cathedral. There is nothing quite like hearing such a splendid work in such a splendid space with just the right acoustics for baroque music. St. Philip's is a large neo-Gothic building with plenty of hard surfaces in the nave to create resplendent reverberation. The first part of the oratorio was taken at a rather rapid pace. "And he shall purify..." was particularly fast, and the Cathedral Schola kept up with beautiful phrasing, golden tone, and wonderful articulation. Same can be said of "For unto us..." These tempi were actually perfect and underscored the hopeful and joyous nature of this first part. The second part was (save for the Hallelujah Chorus) was in marked contrast, with much slower tempi. This divergence underscored the difference in the two sections: the first full of anticipation and the second full of sadness. This contrast was the genius of this performance. And if anyone ever had a question of whether a baroque orchestra should play a baroque piece, then this performance will settle it for you forever. The only nitpick is that the baroque trumpeter struggled a bit with intonation and smoothness. But, the Cathedral is a forgiving place (pardon the pun) and it was much less of an error that would have been the case in a much drier acoustic.
The soloists were quite good even though they had some warm-up issues. Ms. Rottsolk really improves over her performance and she was startling at the end. Only Mr. Daniels, the countertenor had some difficulty throughout. He was challenged particularly in the lower parts of his range. It is difficult for countertenors also because at times, if they are not careful, their performances can approach sounding (and acting) a bit like "Annie" on Broadway. Nevertheless, these soloists should have made Mr. Handle proud.
AMC did have some problems with the space and the audience. This is no reflection on the performance but it can detract never the less. The first irritant was a woman two rows in front of AMC that had a hacking cough throughout the first section. She hacked and she hacked- apparently it never occurred to her that she might be annoying others and that stepping out would not have been worse than listening to her rip her vocal chords. This was in the balcony, so if she did annoy, it certainly would have been far fewer people than if she were coughing up her lungs in the nave seating. What was even worse was that she had a Bluetooth earpiece on. Really? Was she that important? AMC feared that in fact, she might receive a call and just started talking. Ugh. The second irritant is that St. Phillips' has a set of bright spotlights that illuminate the top of the interior. Unfortunately, they are placed right in line with the final row of the balcony where AMC was seated. They could be constantly seen out of the corner of the eye. These were certainly part of the house lights, but they were never dimmed.
But, this indeed was a wonderful performance. ABO music director Julie Andrijeski never fails to hit a home run with her group.The standing-room-only crowd was hearty in its applause.