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Concert Choir responds to Messiah's challenge

MESSIAH

By Handel.

MIT Concert Choir.

With soloists Theresa Cincione, Gloria Raymond, Rockland Osgood, and Kenneth Goodson G.

John Oliver, conductor.

Kresge Auditorium, Friday, Nov. 30.

[ah]

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

KRESGE CAN RARELY HAVE BEEN so full: There were people spilling into the aisles. And after the chorus had obviously had a thumping good time blasting out a high-voltage "Hallelujah Chorus," everybody was elated and on their feet applauding. Doing Messiah was quite a challenge for MIT's Concert Choir, and they responded well, if not flawlessly.

The best performance of the evening came from Kenneth Goodson G. Far more than the other soloists, he seemed to appreciate the lyricism of the words and endowed them with subtly inflected meaning. Although he did not always project with the power of a Pavarotti, he sang with beauty and found spirituality in the text: His alone was an active interpretation, and it gave delight.

Goodson's voice soared especially during "The trumpet shall sound," which he conveyed both boldly and evocatively, making of his music an essay in joy. The accompagnato "For, behold the darkness shall cover the earth" was brought off with great dignity and was extremely moving.

Rockland Osgood put in an adequate and sometimes interesting showing as tenor. Soprano Theresa Cincione had her moments: Her final aria, "If God be for us," was sympathetically done, and had a nice flow to it. Her singing was, nonetheless, at times a trifle dull.

The big disappointment came from Gloria Raymond, performing well below her usual standard: Her voice was flat and uninspired. "He was despised" was done especially poorly: This is perhaps one of the most moving arias in all oratorio. Raymond never failed to convey a sense of prettiness, and her voice was not lacking in charm. But there is a whole lot more to say, a great deal of meaning in the message, and it was lost on her.

John Oliver's pace was fast -- in line with the tenets of the "authentic" movement -- and to mixed effect. While the "Hallelujah Chorus" was exhilarating, speed at times took away from stature and made it hard for the ensemble to sound focused or for soloists to be fully expressive. There were some beautiful choral effects, nonetheless, and the men and women balanced off against each other nicely. "For unto us a Child is born" was especially pleasing in this way, building in power to celebratory effect.

"All we like sheep" was delivered with vigor and precision. The chorus' "Behold the Lamb of God" had a plaintive grandeur that was quite affecting. "Since by man came death" also had beauty to it, and possessed power at the same time.

Some other numbers, "Glory to God," for example, showed some slack, despite the speed: It is far from easy to be crisp when you are racing. Fortunately, the concluding "Amen chorus" was brilliant in sound, weighty in delivery, and uplifting in total effect.

Oliver's orchestra -- culled from Boston-area professionals -- was for the most part proficient and with some nice solo work, especially on trumpet. The strings at times sounded thinnish, though, and were not consistently sharp. Small lapses did not, however, detract from the overall pleasure, which brought the audience to their feet in applause.