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TWO HUGE Christmas trees awash in small white lights flanked the chancel of the host church, and rows of elevated candelabra lined its aisles as Arie Lipsky gave the downbeat for the Overture to Handel's "Messiah" Wednesday evening.

It ushered in a performance which was straightforward, perhaps unspectacular in any way, but adhering to the English tradition employing larger forces and 19th century performance practice.

So this is neither an authentic "period" performance nor a chamber version nor a massive performance with oversized chorus, but a very tasteful "Messiah" with a chorus of about 60 and an orchestra of similar proportions.

One might even call it a middle-of-the-road performance, not just because of the size of the forces but mainly because a quality of restraint, bordering on genteel, infused much of the choral work. The chorus was well prepared and sang with a consistent sense of style, but only midway into the performance with the chorus "He Trusted in God" did a true sense of sectional balance and dynamic fullness emerge.

Up to that point the chorus seemed a bit bass-shy and in melismatic runs seemed more chattery than articulate.

The four soloists were excellent.

Tenor Gary Burgess was a bit constricted in the opening "Comfort Ye/Every Valley," but by the time "Behold and See" came around he lost the tightness and sang with easy and captivating expressiveness.

Soprano Julie Newell has a very pure and beautifully focused voice.

Her approach to lyric line is very vital and sometimes aggressive to the point of almost getting ahead of the beat.

A very nice contrast was provided by Gwendolyn Bowers-Lentz's rich-hued alto voice, very natural in both projection and phrasing, and floating easily and softly on the long melismatic lines.

Brian Zunner's bass is a voice of great refinement which also exudes absolute security of intonation and tonal centering.

In the recitative "For Behold, Darkness" Zunner made a compelling musical experience of what sometimes is just a transition.

Maestro Lipsky chose his tempos very judiciously, and the entire performance had a sense of logical progression as a result.

Handel's "Messiah"

Soloists, Concert Choir of
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, directed by James Bigham, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, all conducted by Arie Lipsky.

Wednesday evening in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, to be repeated today at 8:15 p.m.

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