FORT WORTH -- One of the oldest traditions in music was observed once again Monday night when the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra teamed with two choruses and four vocal soloists to present Handel's Messiah.
This is one of two musical harbingers of Christmas, the other being, of course, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. Actually, Handel wrote the oratorio for Eastertime presentation, but it's been a Christmas tradition for centuries.
Messiah has been called the oldest piece of classical music because it has been immensely popular since its premiere in 1742 and has never dropped out of the repertory. There are older pieces of great music, but they have come and gone (and sometimes come again).
That Monday night's performance in Bass Hall was going to be special became clear when tenor Scot Cameron began the vocal proceedings with a magnificent presentation of the recitative "Comfort ye" and air "Every valley." Cameron's diction was crystal clear and his singing fluid and lyrical. He has sung countertenor at times, but this was clearly tenor territory, with some impressive low as well as high notes.
The other soloists -- soprano Leigh Shipman, alto Angela Cofer and bass David Robinson -- were a fine group. I was especially impressed with Shipman's lovely, clear soprano and Robinson's dramatic bass. Robinson's "The people that walked in darkness" and vigorous "Why do the nations so vigorously rage together?" were high points, as was Shipman's moving "I know that my Redeemer liveth."
The chorus tends to be the real star of Messiah, of course, and the combined Southwestern Seminary Master Chorale and Southwestern Singers gave a star performance with solid unity and stirring sounds that both moved and thrilled (especially in the number everybody was waiting for, the "Hallelujah" chorus).
Conductor David Thye led a stirring performance that seemed well paced and sympathetic to the soloists. The symphony was not quite full-sized, although it numbered more than Baroque purists would like. It tended to stay in the background, as Messiah orchestras usually do. The chorus, at around 125 singers, was not Victorian-size, though its numbers also challenged purists' demands.