Handel's "Messiah" Receives A Stunning Performance

By Henry C. Mayer

There is nothing quite like it. That is not only this writer's view; Louisville Orchestra conductor Uriel Segal said it well when he wrote "a conductor preparing for a performance of `Messiah' is faced with (a) gigantic task." It is not only the length of this work, it is also its scope and subject matter. Maestro Segal also tells us "research over the past twenty years has given us a lot of insight into the authenticity [with] which to perform Baroque (18th century) music." The result is that what we now know makes "fresh demands" on all involved in its performance.

`Messiah' has been enthusiastically received since its first performance in Dublin, Ireland 259 years ago. Written in the surprisingly quick time of two months, Handel has to share credit with the librettist Charles Jennens, whose hopes for it were expressed as follows: "I hope he (Handel) will lay out his whole genius and Skill upon it, that the composition may excel all his former compositions as the Subject excels every other Subject. The Subject is Messiah."

Maestro Segal similarly has to share plaudits with Louisville Bach Society Director Melvin Dickinson and University of Louisville Collegiate Chorale Conductor Kent E. Hatteberg, as well as the talented soloists and the members of the orchestra and the other two organizations.

The combined result was a very moving performance that can well prepare the audience for Christmas and the New Year. It is a religious more than a theatrical appearance - a perennial impression which John Wesley shared as follows, "I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious as they were during this performance." Anyone who watched Maestro Segal and the other evening's participants would probably agree.

One would hope that this event would become a permanent local custom at this time of the year and that it would be performed at the Kentucky Center of the Arts. With all credit to those responsible for the beautification of the Brown, it. is this observer's impression that the latter is less than satisfactory in many ways for the presentation of the Handel masterpiece.