TSO pairs 'Messiah' with Bach cantatas

The orchestra performed the concert three times this weekend.

George Hanson conducted his last “Messiah” with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra on Sunday afternoon and it was easily one of his best.

The TSO has been doing Handel’s Christmastime choral masterpiece nearly every year for the past 12 or so. That’s a lot of “Hallelujah” choruses, but if Hanson was burned out on the exuberant rush of holiday cheer, he didn’t let on.

The four guest soloists — soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, alto Korby Myrick , tenor Andrew Penning and baritone William Andrew Stuckey — and the audience were on their feet as the TSO Chorus began the famous chorus. Hanson had promised we’d hear ‘Hallelujah” twice — once with just the chorus singing, the second time as an audience sing-along. The audience loosely filling the Catalina-Foothills High School Auditorium, sang with gusto, even if their voices did not overflow the auditorium.

That was never a problem for the TSO Chorus, which was about 40 strong for the performance. They sang the “Messiah” and Bach’s Cantata 1 from “The Christmas Oratorio” with wonderful passion and an infectious energy that filled the hall. And if you wondered if they were having fun you needed only look to see a row of heads bobbing in time to Handel’s magnificent score.

Hanson led the orchestra in an exciting performance that balanced the sacred and the dramatic of Handel’s operatic-like work. The orchestra, which arguably plays a supporting role to the chorus in “Messiah,” sounded terrific throughout, with sweeping string passages that soared and the triumphant trumpet blasts to herald the “Hallelujah” finale.

Principal trumpeter Conrad Jones spent most of the “Messiah” quietly listening as his colleagues played their hearts out. Handel relegated the trumpet to the “trumpet shall sound” and “worthy is the lamb” moments of the “Hallelujah.”

But Jones, 24, likely appreciated the break after the workout he got during Cantata 1 from Bach’s “The Christmas Oratorio.”

Jones, who joined the TSO in 2013 and landed the principal role this season, was a dominant voice throughout the 30-minute piece including in the finale, when he stood just behind the vocal soloists to play what amounted to his own solo role. He was terrific, singing out these wonderfully clean lines imbued with heroic exclamations.  

The guest vocalists included Myrick, the former Tucsonan who now calls Connecticut home, whose alto reached admirable heights on the upper register. Anderson also showcased a lovely voice with tantalizing range while Stuckey’s burnished baritone soared, crisp and clear even at the lowest points of his vocal range.

Penning, though, was a show-stealer, singing at times with richly nuanced vibrato and at other times with such ringing clarity that you just couldn’t take your eyes off him.

Sunday’s performance was the third of the weekend. The TSO performed the Bach and Handel concert twice on Saturday.

Next up” “The Magic of Christmas” at Tucson Music Hall 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. next Sunday. Click here for tickets and see Thursday’s Caliente for a preview.