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DANCE & MUSIC REVIEWS : Mormon Choir Presents a New Edition of ‘Messiah’

The Southern California Mormon Choir offered the West Coast premiere of a new performing edition of Handel’s “Messiah"--the Van Camp edition--Wednesday night at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but in the process neglected some of the basics--precision of ensemble, for one.

Conductor H. Douglas Custance had decided as well to delve into certain practices of the school of authentic performance. He led his choir and the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra in an uncommonly swift and curt reading, successfully vivacious at times, a jumble of notes more often. The 120-voice choir--32 voices sang at the premiere of the work in 1742--simply couldn’t manage the historical clip.

Thus, the joys of this “Messiah” became the recitatives and arias, for which were engaged a strong quartet of singers. Tenor Jonathan Mack brought lyrical expressiveness and graceful vocalism to his many chores, while soprano Mary Rawcliffe gave subtly shaded, gently lilting, pastel-hued readings of hers. Mezzo-soprano Debbie Cree Smith and baritone Douglas Lawrence were less convincing musically but sturdy vocally.

The Baroque Orchestra and Custance didn’t seem to make friends all evening and as a consequence, the orchestra sounded uncharacteristically ragged. In addition, the large expanses of the Pavilion sapped its power--it could muster only fluffy rage in “Why do the nations so furiously rage together,” for instance.

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Custance kept his choir moving fleetly if not tidily while indulging in period mannerisms. He had the choir inflect phrases like period instrumentalists and avoided big, ringing perorations--"Messiah” hallmarks, one would think--opting instead for slowing and fading climaxes. Odd.


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