A Baroque 'Messiah'
MSO delivers a rhythmic, stylish holiday event
There was no autopilot in play in this Messiah, a danger in this warhorse. Guest conductor Christopher Seaman has an insightful grasp of the piece, infusing it with Baroque style, rhythmic vigor and insightful drama. A parade of stylish, persuasive, ear-catching details came through, movement after movement. Seamanâ€™s playing of the harpsichord helped the artful timing of moving from one movement into the next.
The scaled-down orchestra played with precision and vitality. The Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, reduced to 40 to allow for nimbleness in Baroque music, often fulfilled Seamanâ€™s musical ideas wonderfully. The choral sound at times was not always what it could have been. This was largely a question of refinement of diction, including aligned consonants and blended vowels.
Soprano soloist Caitlin Lynchâ€™s voice shines with brilliance and color. I found her singing most interesting and sympathetic in â€śI know that my Redeemer liveth.â€ť Mezzo-Soprano Leah Wool was vivid in her insightful use of words and vocal color making the text come alive. Tenor Randall Umsteadâ€™s elegant lyric voice was pleasing in his solos, though he struggled with the high notes in â€śThou shalt break them.â€ť Baritone Jonathan Laschâ€™s sizable voice has a big dynamic range, bite and authority, all necessary qualities for his solos. But a quiet moment, his phrasing of the line â€śBehold, I tell you a mystery,â€ť is what I remember most fondly.
The MSOâ€™s current financial crisis is by now well known. The orchestra is at its aesthetic zenith, leagues above what it was when I moved to Milwaukee 30 years ago. It plays at a high international standard, artistically well above some orchestras with four times its budget. (Iâ€™m looking at you, New York Philharmonic.) We cannot let the crown jewel in the regionâ€™s performing arts scene falter. I donâ€™t want to even think of Milwaukee without the MSO.