In a season over-crowded with holiday concerts, Handel’s Messiah is performed all over Manhattan. But there is no better place to hear this Christmas favorite than Trinity Church, a church dating back to 1696 with a deep history in New York and home to the work's New World premiere in 1770. Led by Julian Wachner and accompanied by the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, the Trinity Choir and soloists performed an historical rendition of Messiah. Presented in all three parts, not just Part One and the “Hallelujah” chorus, audience members remained transfixed in their seats as the seraphic sounds of the choir and orchestra retold the majestic story of the Messiah’s glory on Earth.

© Trinity Church
© Trinity Church

From the outset, Handel’s Messiah in these capable hands felt more like a chamber music piece rather than a grand, sacred oratorio. Perhaps this effect was intentional, as Handel originally scored his oratorio for just strings and trumpets to accompany the choir, adding other instrumental colours later. One needn't go as far as George Bernard Shaw wanted to in 1913 - he demanded that performing of Messiah for massed forces be made a capital offence - but Trinity Choir's retelling of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection felt like an intimate conversation between the performers and the audience, and close to the ideal scale for the work.

The most intimate moment occurred in the Recitative for Alto in Part One, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” where the soloist, Melissa Attebury, represents the voice of Angel Gabriel. Sung in recitative, it felt as if the soloist was taking the audience into her confidence, prophesying the miraculous story about to unfold.

As the performance progressed, Trinity Choir achieved a grandiose quality in their performance. With rich harmonies throughout, Messiah hosts a breadth of musical techniques, such as word painting and melismatic melodies. Used to adorn individual musical themes, these techniques were effectively employed by the Trinity Choir and its soloists, creating an overall sense of grandeur and majesty throughout the entire oratorio.

Following the tradition set by King George II, we rose to our feet during the “Hallelujah” chorus. (I even spotted several enthusiasts mouthing the words along with the choir.) And during the final triumphant “Amen,” the interplay between the violin duet and the majestic sound of the choir further reinforced the brilliance of Handel’s music and the glory of the Messiah himself.

In the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, one wouldn’t expect to find a spiritual hub like Trinity Church. But on that snowy Monday night, Trinity Choir and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra presented a rapturous performance of Handel’s Messiah that spoke not just to those who practice Christianity, but directly to the hearts of anyone looking to re-capture their faith and to re-live the Christian story in all its vividness.