Red Deer-area musicians on period instruments tackle Handel’s ‘Messiah’

Uplifting words, music make this baroque composition eternally popular

When it comes to pairing philosophical ideas about religion with emotive, uplifting music, Handel has few equals.

George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah, will be played Saturday, Dec. 23 at Red Deer’s Gaetz Memorial United Church by the VoiceScapes singers of Calgary, and Rosa Barocca. The 17-member baroque orchestra is comprised of eight Red Deer Symphony Orchestra players and musicians from across North America.

While Handel’s “amazing” work has been performed three or four times in Red Deer — it’s never before been played on period instruments, said Rosa Barocca’s music director Claude Lapalme, who predicts “this will be a very special concert” — just in time for Christmas.

Not only has Messiah has never gone out of fashion, but it’s greatness has been recognized throughout the ages. As Lapalme writes in the concert’s program: After hearing Handel’s masterwork in London, Haydn was heard saying “He’s the master of us all…”

Lapalme feels the piece is so special because Handel has paired simple, unadorned text, lifted directly from the King James Bible, with exquisite, soul-stirring music.

By performing the Messiah on quieter, more warm-toned period instruments even more focus should shift on the “philosophical statement about faith” being made by the singers. Lapalme believes the text could take on an even deeper meaning.

Although there’s little emotion in passages, such as “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee,” Lapalme noted that Handel uses an operatic technique called “word painting” very effectively. Listen carefully to the Messiah’s verses and you will hear words sung in a way that accentuates their meaning. For example, ‘cry’ is delivered on an accentuated note, ‘inequity’ is sung on a dissonant chord, ‘crooked’ with vocal leaps, and ‘plain’ on long, sustained notes.

Six members of VoiceScapes, Calgary’s professional music collective, as well as a 15-member chorus, will sing the “very, very elevating text,” said Lapalme. When combined with Handel’s music, it becomes “a great, eternal masterpiece.”

Since forming in 2016, Rosa Barocca has presented audiences with Baroque music using instruments that “capture the spirit, stylistic approach and distinctive sound of that glorious musical era.” The orchestra is comprised of musicians from across Canada, as well as Seattle and San Francisco.

Tickets are from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.

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