Stories » YNS-Philadelphia Orchestra 'Messiah' is something much more than a holiday ritual /

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YNS-Philadelphia Orchestra 'Messiah' is something much more than a holiday ritual /

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The minute Handel's Messiah starts, you feel like you're home. "Comfort ye" are the first words out of the tenor's mouth in the first aria, and at this point in the holiday season, you need to hear that. The later moments, however, are where the Philadelphia Orchestra's Thursday performance, the first of three through Sunday at the Kimmel Center, began distinguishing itself as something much more than a holiday ritual, or, worse yet, a musical rerun. This was a Messiah that constantly asked you to think again at passages that often veer into redundancy - but sometimes at a cost.

Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin brought this out early in the season, and his soloists Carolyn Sampson, Christophe Dumaux, Jonas Hacker, and Philippe Sly showed no signs of Messiah burnout that is likely to be heard later in the month. Roughly 80 singers from the Westminster Symphonic Choir managed the customarily big, auditorium-filling moments - but with its lighter young voices scaled back to a more contemplative manner that took some of the crowd-pleasing pomp out of the piece and peered into what the work is really saying. Countertenor Dumaux has a solid, forthright sound that has often been lacking in singers of his voice type. And bass-baritone Sly, one of the more interesting singers of his kind out there, brought lean, precise coloring to his arias, though the stentorian "Trumpet shall sound" had him on thin ice.   PHOTO: TOM GRALISH