Music Director Robert Moody, the Winston-Salem Symphony, and Moody's selected Festival Chorus are well on the way to establishing a tradition of excellence with their complete holiday performances of the Messiah of George Frederic Handel (1685-1759). This first of two performances of their third annual Messiah found a good audience turnout in the Centenary United Methodist Church. The church's fine acoustics, with no prolonged reverberation period, allow every line of instrumental and vocal music to be heard.
Moody's chamber-sized orchestra consisted of 27 players including James Jones on positif organ and Wake Forest University faculty keyboard artist Peter Kairoff on harpsichord continuo. Superb solos were given by Concertmaster Corine Brouwer during No. 45, the soprano air "I know my redeemer liveth," and principal trumpet Anita Cirba, whose seamless playing and thrilling trills added so much to the great bass aria "The trumpet shall sound." During No. 16 accompagnato "And suddenly there was with the angel," Cirba and Kenneth Wilmot took up positions in the East and West balconies to deliver the appropriate antiphonal effects. Cellist Brooks Whitehouse was often heard, in tandem with harpsichordist Kairoff or organist Jones, providing sensitive support for singers' recitatives. Moody's choices of dynamics and phrasing were exemplary.
The fifty or so member Festival Chorus had been very well prepared. The chorus was arrayed on risers before the pulpit. The quality of diction was outstanding and they responded instantly to every adjustment Moody made of dynamics. Attacks were on the spot, they sang as one in the massed choruses and each section stayed tightly together when the text was divided among them. A highlight of the quality of the full chorus was No. 24 "Surely He hath borne our griefs," while their handling of complex strands was the canonic No. 25 "And with His stripes we are healed," with each section taking up its text in turn. The well-known Hallelujah chorus was given a hearty performance and the final chorus No. 53 "Worthy is the Lamb" was given with great majesty and power.
Moody's solo singers were a quartet of the finest vocalists heard in the Triad and Triangle. University of North Carolina faculty member Carla La Fevre sang the soprano part with elegance and refined tone. Among her best selections were No. 38 air "How beautiful are the feet of them who preach" and "I know that my Redeemer liveth." Anytime mezzo-soprano Mary Gayle Greene takes the stage, music lovers in the region can expect a real treat and such was the case on this occasion. Although Greene is listed as a mezzo, she possesses a solid contralto extension which brings out a full-rich sound. Air No. 23, "He was despised and rejected of men" gave full scope for her range from its lowest to its secure clear, high soprano quality as well as her clear articulation of fast passages. Baritone Robert Overman sang with great power. His ornamenting of "sake" within No. 5 "Thus saith the lord" was delightful. Tenor James Allbritten's first air, No. 3 "Ev'ry valley" came off with a darker tone than expected. His voice opened up better for his post-intermission airs. Perhaps the outstanding University of North Carolina School of the Arts faculty member was having an off night. His off nights are better than many a tenor's best.
All four singers used ornamentation with restraint and taste.