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100TH COMING OF THE 'MESSIAH' IS ONE OF THE BEST

Let's get right to the point.

The malls will be jammed today. And on Monday you'll still have three days left for holiday shopping. That means you have no excuse not to try to get tickets for this afternoon's repeat performance by the BPO of one of the best "Messiahs" in memory.

It was the 100th performance of "Messiah" by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and chorus, and guest conductor JoAnn Falletta gave every indication that she intended to make that 100th performance a very memorable one.

The clean articulation, nicely pointed rhythms and full, balanced sound of the orchestra in the opening Sinfonia was the first clue of what was to come. Later, as the chorus made its presence felt more and more, I was impressed with its clean, coherent sound, the unanimity of its very musical phrasing, and its meaty but not heavy, well-centered sound. There was extraordinarily good dynamic control in the sudden lurches from pianissimo to forte in "And He Shall Purify;" a remarkably clear, clean and "together" soprano section in "For Unto Us," while ensemble sound bloomed excitingly on the shouted "Wonderful, Counselor."

All this is the result of a very receptive group of choral singers, excellent preparation by their director Thomas Swan, and Maestra Falletta's ability to take these elements, handed to her on arrival, and quickly apply her personal ideas to the score. I'd venture that the extreme buoyancy of the chorus in such selections as "All We Like Sheep" and "He Trusteed in God" were Falletta implants.

The only down side to this was that the succession of exceptionally fast tempos she chose for most of the choruses in Part 2 began to diminish the music's expressiveness.

Nonetheless, she impressed with her very decisive, direct and physical conducting style. Ms. Falletta conducted with her hands, arms, shoulders, torso and even legs. Her physical proclivities did not seem histrionic or choreographic.

The performance also was blessed with excellent soloists. Tenor David Gordon has a light textured voice that, one suspected, might have trouble competing with the orchestra.

But he produced a pleasingly lyrical, supple line that held its own well enough at all times. And baritone Jonathan Hays initially had a bit of trouble with a tremulous uncertainty in melismatic lines, but as the oratorio progressed his control firmed up, and in "The Trumpet Shall Sound" his voice was quite commanding and majestic.

The extremely expressive singing of mezzo Christina Wilcox and soprano Jayne West makes buying a ticket worthwhile all by itself. Wilcox's creamy but well focused mezzo was captivating in "But Who May Abide," while she unleashed superb melismatic control in the "Refiner's fire" episode and soared impressively in her upper register at the conclusion.

In "O Thou That Tellest" she played superbly off Charles Haupt's excellent violin solo and handled the wide interval leaps with ease.

Soprano Jayne West has an exquisitely sweet voice that seemed small initially but kept opening new vistas of expression and reserves of power to make a major contribution to the performance. In "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" her voice was contained but superbly focused, with just the right amount of vibrato and a winning ability to open up her sound like a flower in its upper range.

REVIEW
Handel's "Messiah"

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by JoAnn Falletta, with soprano Jayne West, mezzo Christina Wilcox, tenor David Gordon and baritone Jonathan Hays.

Saturday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall; repeat at 2:30 p.m. today, with preconcert talk by Ms. Falletta at 1:30.