The second great concert I saw last weekend (the first being the Musica Sacra concert which I talked about Monday) was the Boston Cecilia's performance of Handel's Jephtha.
Warning: gushing ahead! I know that makes for the less interesting reviews, but I loved it!
First off, the line-ups of soloists was very impressive. I especially loved both the women soloists. Teresa Wakim was the soprano, and her voice was absolutely clear and delightful the whole way through. All her arias were wonderful, but I especially enjoyed "The smiling dawn of happy days." And Deborah Rentz-Moore as the mezzo-soprano was a happy surprise; I had never heard of her, or heard her perform before, but she was great, with a wonderful rich tone that easily carried over the orchestra, and good emotional intensity.
But the hero of the hour (well, three hours) was definitely Aaron Sheehan, who totally knocked it out of the park. I really cannot say enough nice things about him. His tone was both heroic and vulnerable; his diction and tuning exquisite, and he nailed every note, no matter how small or fast. You could hear people gasp after some of his more virtuosic runs. I am more impressed every time I hear him (last time was also with the Boston Cecilia, when he performed Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings.) Someone should snap him up to record this role right away so I can put "Waft her gently" on my ITunes and listen to it on repeat.
Finally, one can't talk about the soloists without mentioning boy soprano Ryan Williams as the Angel in Act III. He was extremely impressive; perfectly dead-on pitch, and carried well over the orchestra, and in general nailed his performance. Everyone had to stop and give him an extra bow in the middle of the performance. He is also the son of Ron Williams, the baritone soloist, so he comes from an excellent family line!
Of course, I went to hear not the soloists but the chorus. And the chorus was excellent! Many people were talking about the choral movement at the end of Act II, "How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees," which was definitely one of the emotional climaxes of the whole piece, and very intense. But I was even more blown away by the chorus at the end of Act I, "When his loud voice in thunder spoke," which although not as deep was very virtuosic. The chorus was nimble, accurate, and their rhythm and tempo was perfect; they were never behind the conductor. Also, I could hear their ending consonants, even the "k" on "broke," which kind of blew me away. Throughout the entire performance they had a strong full sound that was extremely well-balanced and well-tuned.
I expected this plus-three-hour performance to occasionally lag in dramatic drive, and thought that my energy would flag during the listening, especially in light of Daylight Savings that morning. But Jephtha struck me as one of the more dramatically well-balanced oratorios that I have heard, and Don Teeters kept things rolling along at a good clip. It's sad that this was the last Handel oratorio we will hear him conduct with the Boston Cecilia, but it was the perfect way to go out!
The next Cecilia concert is Bach's St. Matthew Passion on Nov. 6, when they will be joined by Musica Sacra! It's already on my calendar; I expect it to be great.
For another review of Cecilia's performance last Sunday, you can read Jeremy Eichler in the Globe. Much as I loved the performance, I do think his comment about "more pointed emotional specificity" is well-taken.