Handel’s Messiah for Holy Week at the Knox Presbyterian Church

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The Senior Choir of the Knox Presbytarian Church in Toronto presented an impressive performance of The Messiah before Christmas last year under the direction of Roger Bergs. They sang Part I of the oratorio and ended the concert with Life up your heads, O ye gates (#33) and the Hallelujah chorus (#44).

As we entered into Holy Week, my husband and I were among the audience for the Passion part of The Messiah. The church combined the concert with a worship service on Palm Sunday, thus signally in the most important week in the Christian calendar for Christians all around the world.

Last year, we arrived at the church in darkness. This time, I was better able to take a picture of the church while it is still light outside.

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We found seats nearer the front and had better acoustics and closer view of the performers. The solo vocalists selected from among the ranks of the choir members were the same as those from last Christmas, and there were only had a few changes for the guest instrumentalists. They all put forward a well co-ordinated performance. Music director Roger Bergs was on crutches, but this did not deter him from energetically moving to the lectern to introduce the music and repeatedly standing up to conduct and sitting down to play the harpsichord.

The program began with the chorus Behold the Lamb of God (Part II, #22) and ended with the Worthy is the Lamb chorus in Part III. There were read commentaries from Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Mariano Di Gangi, a former minister of the church. They excerpts enhanced the spirituality of the evening.

Chelsea Säuer-Peckham delivered a superb performance of He was despised and rejected of men (#23) with a gentle sorrow about the pains and suffering Jesus endured, but not without allowing an inner strength to shine through. I definitely preferred this interpretation to one performance I remembered in which the solo vocalist pronounced  “despised” and “rejected” with such emphasis that it was excruciating painful (pun intended) to listen to. Säuer-Peckhem’s duet with Kenzi Yango, tenor, was also beautiful. Tenor Jason Lamont gave a credible and commanding performance in the recitative He that dwelleth in heaven (#42) and aria Thou shalt break them with a rod (#43). Soprano Anna Casurella had excellent control of her range and definitely would have given a more convincing performance given better enunciation of the words. It was regrettably a more disappointing evening for baritone Patrick Twaddle in Part II, but fortunately he regained his composure in Part III.

It was a solemn evening highlighted by the singing of Jesus’s suffering and death, but we also left the church with feelings of comfort and hope from the belief in the significance of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

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