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Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, May 01, 2006

About 200 people gave up the most beautiful Sunday afternoon in recent memory to hear "an authentic" Messiah yesterday at All Saints Church in Westboro. A joint effort of Seventeen Voyces and Ottawa's early music organization La Favoritte, it included not the entire Messiah, but Parts II and III, dealing with the Passion, the Resurrection and the theological implications thereof.

It was authentic in that the number of performers was similar to what Handel commanded in the 1741 premiere of the work in Dublin. The instruments sported varying degrees of historical appropriateness; the strings were all played with reconstructed baroque bows, for example. However, Madeleine Owen's excellent theorbo continuo playing was something Handel would probably not have found familiar. On the other hand, real baroque trumpets were used, and that's unusual in performances much more sophisticated than this.

The community-based orchestra assembled for the occasion played gamely and with a degree of style, but also with minor problems of ensemble and more substantial ones of intonation.

The Seventeen, augmented by a few extra Voyces for the occasion, were very good, though that will surprise no one who has been following their work over the last few seasons. Their tuning was superb, as was their rhythmic accuracy.

If one complaint might be levelled against the choral singing, it would be that the individual lines sometimes lost focus, becoming simple, if accurate enough, note spinning.

Soprano Lise Maisonneuve has a nice voice and a good sense of musicality. There were times when it felt as though she hadn't entirely worked through the music's implications, but her singing was still enjoyable.

Alto Gwen Millar has a simple, no-nonsense voice that this listener finds particularly pleasing. She has a fine musical presence as well. Unfortunately there was something distractingly odd about her diction.

This Messiah was tenor Alain Paquette's first professional engagement. He has a promising voice and a good, if somewhat underdeveloped, musical sense. Unfortunately, he got lost toward the end of Thou Shalt Break Them.

Bass Phillip Holmes has a dark and powerful voice and is especially adept at delivering Handel's 16th-note runs accurately, if a little stiffly. Here's someone you'll be hearing a lot of in the future.

Though there were significant flaws, the effort was worth hearing. For listeners who weren't interested in giving up their Sunday afternoon, this Messiah will be presented again tomorrow evening at St. Matthew's in the Glebe.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006



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An Authentic Messiah