The Salisbury Singers joined the instrumentalists of the Bach Consort of Worcester last night at Trinity Lutheran Church in an enthralling celebration of the Easter Season. To the old musicologists’ saw that “while angels listen to Mozart, God listens only to Bach,” director Michelle Graveline’s precisely trained forces added the fillip: “After Bach, the Deity invariably hums Handel and Telemann.”
The program was aptly named “Baroque Brilliance” opening with Telemann’s “Laudate Jehovam,“ adroitly conducted by Graveline’s assistant, Joshua Rohde, and then Bach’s early, endearing Cantata No. 4 “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” a musical rendering of Martin Luther’s summary of the Christian story. After the intermission the program concluded with Handel’s massive and moving “Dettingen Te Deum,” thanking God for a British military triumph.
Four soloists joined the 94 singers: soprano Monica Hatch, mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal, tenor Murray Kidd, and bass-baritone Dana Whiteside. Within the consort, lead trumpeter John Roderick MacDonald deserves soloist designation, too. His work in the Handel piece manifested a near-divine infusion of breath and spot-on control of very challenging notes.
As always, given Graveline’s meticulous attention to detail and careful preparation of forces, the mix of soloists and chorus in the Bach piece provided spectacular effects. Each of the seven vocal movements ends in a resounding “Hallelujah!” And listening to Bach’s creative, hyperpoetic variations of each ending was a dizzying experience. The youthful Bach out-“hallelujahs!” “Messiah,” long before Handel even imagined that score. In the third movement Hatch and Dellal sweetly explore, with deft harpsichord accompaniment by Lynn LaComfora, the softer fadeout version of death’s apparent mastery in a muted “Hallelujah.” In the sixth movement Whiteside unfurls the full power of his immense voice, in a resounding affirmation of grace over death. And the chorus answers at the end of the seventh movement with an amazing rippling “Hallelujah!” Luther’s final chorale hymn builds to a megapower conclusion and final blissful “Hallelujah!,” that clearly thrilled the crowded church.
Handel composed the “Te Deum” a couple of years after “Messiah,” and it seemed he had internalized, refined and sharpened the techniques “Messiah” revealed. The blend of soloists and chorus seems more seamless in the “Te Deum.” Compare, for example, the “Te Deum’s” sixth segment, “Thou art the King of Glory O Christ,”(there are myriad versions on YouTube) with “Messiah’s” “Who is the King of Glory?” That arcane and probably extraneous point aside, The Salisbury Singers delivered wondrously powerful renderings of the texts. The contrapuntal force the chorus demonstrated, the articulation they managed of the various lines, and in particular the purity of tone — an almost ethereal gift — the soprano section displayed, generated, time after time, heart-stopping sonic moments.
One might complain that occasionally a soloist scooped a bit toward a note, or lament the echo effect Trinity Lutheran’s soaring vault space created, but these would be piddling objections beside the spectacular success of this concert. Who but Handel/Graveline could have taken a last line like “O Lord, in thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded,” and turned it into a mesmerizing chorale finale, mounting on itself into ever-looping, ever-expanding oceans of sound that quite literally yanked the huge audience into a standing ovation?