Utah Voices sings ‘Messiah’ with spirit conviction

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BY CATHERINE REESE NEWTON
The Salt Lake Tribune

December always brings a full slate of “Messiahs” to the Wasatch Front, and Utah Voices — a relative newcomer to the state’s choral scene — made a noteworthy contribution to the ranks this year.

The 166-voice volunteer choir was founded in summer 2009; over this past Thanksgiving weekend, about half its members participated in a large-forces performance of the Handel oratorio in New York’s Carnegie Hall. This head start resulted in generally well-polished performances of the oratorio’s soaring choruses on Monday; the singers of Utah Voices followed conductor Michael Huff attentively, with only one miscue to speak of. All through the evening, from a buoyant reading of “And the Glory of the Lord” until the final “Amen,” they sang with spirit and conviction.

Monday’s performance in Libby Gardner Concert Hall was an interesting mix of old and new performance practices. A chamber-size pickup orchestra accompanied the large-ish chorus; Huff did an expert job keeping the forces balanced.

Many of the rhythms were smoothed out, recalling “Messiahs” of years past — and the continuo part was played on a synthesizer. The Handel score was trimmed in the interest of time, but only a couple of the transitions — such as the one between the baritone aria “Why do the nations so furiously rage together” and the tenor recitative “He that dwelleth in heaven” — were particularly jarring.

Of the soloists, tenor Robert Breault gave the most polished performance; his laser-focused pianissimos were most impressive, and his use of ornamentation was always tasteful.

But it was mezzo-soprano Mary Ann Dresher who seemed to make the most genuine emotional connection to the music and text, whether in her exuberantly ornamented aria “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion” or her deeply moving “He was despised.”

Soprano Cindy Dewey brought dramatic flair to the musical telling of the Nativity story and the ever-popular “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and Shane Warby used his light, agile baritone to especially fine effect on the simmering “Why do the nations rage.”