Winston-Salem Symphony Music Director Robert Moody is an avid lover of the choral repertoire. His annual series of double performances of the Messiah by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was established in 2007 and seems to have become firmly founded with Triad music lovers. The Messiah series is dedicated in honor of Dr. A. Robert Cordell, a member of Centenary United Methodist Church, who was instrumental in the planning and implementing of the series. These performances were dedicated in memory of Rev. Pat Stewart who was a founding member of the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale.

Cathedral-styled churches can be problematic for performances of choral music because of the slow reverberation time. This is never a problem in Centenary UMC which has remarkably even acoustics. The only quibble is for the two transept balconies which place the listener behind the vocal soloists who are projecting into the nave. Sound is excellent throughout the nave and its balcony. The unamplified harpsichord continuo can be heard even in the latter.

Moody has an enviable record for choosing excellent vocal soloists and such was the case this year. The allotting of recitatives and airs varies from year to year. For example, this performance had no mezzo-soprano or contralto. Countertenor Daniel Moody ably took up recitative and air “Behold a virgin/O thou that tellist,” the No. 20 duet “He shall feed,” the No. 23 “He was despised,” and the No. 50 duet “O Death.” He had a warm and even tone and lacked nothing for projection. Baritone Theo Hoffman had an evenly supported voice and a pleasing tone. His duet with Moody in No. 50 was excellent and his No. 5 brought plenty heft to “shaking the heav’ns and the earth.” Tenor Jonathan Blalock brought a fine ringing quality to his numerous recitatives and airs, especially in Part II.

Maestro Moody has always added dramatic effect by having his soprano soloist deliver her recitatives during a striking entrance from the back of the nave. Lithe soprano Margaret Carpenter Haigh, in a black velvet gown, delivered this in spades while bringing her text with extraordinary clarity. Her body language during her air No. 18 “Rejoice greatly” practically burst with joy. Her voice marvelously blended a crystal clarity with warmth.

Moody directed the chamber-sized Winston-Salem Symphony with great style and close attention to dynamics and rhythm. The continuo often consisted of cellist Brooks Whitehouse, harpsichordist Nancy Johnston, and double bassist Paul Sharpe, with Nicholas Haigh on chamber organ. The transept balconies allowed brilliant antiphonal effects with trumpeters Anita Cirba and Kenneth Wilmot playing “from on high” during the No. 17 Chorus “Glory to God.” Cirba delivered plenty of brass fireworks throughout the end of Part III: No. 48 “The Trumpet Shall Sound” and the concluding chorus No. 53 “Worthy is the Lamb.” The thundering bass notes of the church’s Austin Organ 1931-63 (additions 1987, 1989, & 2010) added to the brio of the finale.

Moody had prepared all his soloists and the Winston-Salem Symphony Chamber Chorale (Christopher Gillian, Director) with exceptional care for diction. Consonants were consistently clear, even in complicated choral passages, while all the soloists were remarkable in this beyond-the-usual standard.

Few pews had empty spaces for the opening night. Arrive early both for parking and for best choices within ticket assigned pews.

This performance repeats on Wednesday evening. Visit our sidebar for details.