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Alexander's Feast

More listeners could have turned out to hear the Choral Arts Society of Washington’s performance of Handel’s Ode to St. Cecilia on this beautiful Sunday afternoon – even after all the latecomers were seated after the overture, which took the better part of five minutes, there were plenty of seats available in the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Alexander’s Feast, as this secular oratorio is also known, is a remarkable large-scale choral work and a much appreciated break from the barrage of Messiahs that are going to be hurled at us around this time of year. It would have deserved more ears. Before the second part, Piper Runnion-Bareford played the harp concerto in B-flat major, op. 4, no. 6 (also heard as one of the op. 6 concerti), and she nearly stole the show. Her felicitous interpretation made an already beautiful concerto sparkle and delight throughout.

The 182-head strong chorus of the choir performed wonderfully, too. When they broke into “Break his bands of sleep asunder” with a roar, they meant business. Of the soloists, bass-baritone Michael Dean was the most impressive with his sonorous, dark voice. Tenor Jonathan Boyd had a good instrument, too, but on occasion sounded as though he had his mouth full. Soprano Twyla Robinson displayed her voice’s great potential but the actual performance was marred by a mix of small ornamentations of dubious necessity and heavy vibrato, the combination of which made for a wobbly result. Choral Arts Society founder and director Norman Scribner led his most amiably, if not always flawlessly, performing orchestra with precision and along with the rest of the performers to a musically grand afternoon.

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