It was a stellar evening for the magnificent Riverside Church concert with the American Symphony Orchestra and Händel’s seminal work, Judas Maccabaeus, Oratorio (1747). Excitement abounded as the artists assembled before a nave filled to capacity.
The Orchestra performed the Overture magnificently, suiting the inaugural obsequies for Judas’ father. From the onset, this splendid production inspired listeners by dramatically articulating themes of freedom, valor, triumph over oppression, and comity.
The story, through its finely portrayed Baroque affektenlehre led by Maestro and Impresario Leon Botstein, unfolded through dramatic portrayals by the choir and soloists in the roles of Judas Maccabaeus (Jack Swanson), Man (Deborah Nansteel), Woman (Brandie Sutton), and Simon (William Guanbo Su).
Readers may recall that Judas Maccabeus inspired his people to resist oppression and lead them in battle. Man and Woman praised God for his protection and expressed gratitude toward Judas for his leadership. Simon was a priest and ally of Judas who helped to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem after the Seleucids desecrated it; he was often depicted singing hymns to God and leading the people in prayer.
The ensemble conveyed well the historical, emotional, and spiritual significance of the Oratorio by its informed presentations of magnificent arias, recitatives, and choruses, accompanied by the splendid American Symphony orchestra. The music was grand and triumphant, with majestic fanfare and formidable vocal solos.
The ensemble masterfully executed Händel’s use of choral writing, particularly evident in the iconic anthem “See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes.” Fine pitch, articulation, blend, and interpretation were notable.
Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel touched hearts with her performance of the marvelous, poignant “Not Vain Is All This Storm Of Grief,” while tenor Jack Swanson ably characterized the thrilling battle scene in “My Arms! Against this Gorgias Will I Go.”
Deborah Nansteel and Brandie Sutton’s duets were sublime. Of particular note was “O Lovely Peace.”
Stentorian bass William Guanbo Su commanded the stage by singing “I Feel the Deity Within.” Soprano Brandie Sutton inspired all through her interpretation of the recitative “Oh Grant it, Heaven” and aria “So Shall the Lute and Harp Awake.”
Maestro Botstein’s beneficent choice to lead an inspired virtuosic performance of Händel’s Judas Maccabaeus in a nonpareil setting provided the means for music cognoscenti to experience a radiant work that has projected its universal themes for centuries. The ensemble conveyed the work’s pulchritude, magnificence, and ability to project devotional rapture through music and the power of Handel’s composition.
The American Symphony Orchestra and Händel’s Judas Maccabaeus
George Frideric Händel: Judas Maccabaeus, HWV 63
Libretto by Thomas Morell
490 Riverside Drive
New York, NY
American Symphony Orchestra
1330 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019
For tickets and information, go to https://americansymphony.org/current-season/
The ASO’s next concert will present a rare performance of Antonin Dvořák’s 1890 Requiem on January 25 at Carnegie Hall.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Peter & the Wolf by Works & Process, Transcendent Triumph and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall, The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space, and The New Jersey Ballet at the Mayo Arts Center.