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MUSIC / DANCE : Hallelujah! Appeal of 'Messiah' Is Enduring

December 26, 1991|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition.

Before Handel's "Messiah," there were Heinrich Schutz's pristine "Christmas Oratorio" and Bach's six-part "Christmas Oratorio," a host of Glorias and Magnificats, plus lots of other choral works tied to the holiday.

But none of them have captured popular appeal to rival Handel's "Sacred Oratorio."

The final local "Messiah" of the year will be sung at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Crystal Cathedral Arboretum in Garden Grove. The performance will consist only of Part I--often regarded as the "Christmas" portion--and the "Hallelujah!" Chorus from the end of Part II. In his lifetime, Handel conducted numerous performances of the work, making changes along the way to accommodate the different soloists available to him.

In fact, according to conductor Christopher Hogwood-- who wrote a book on Handel--"Messiah" was never performed exactly as written in the original 1741 manuscript.

Modern technology allows you to explore the differences in your own home. A recent Harmonia Mundi three-compact disc recording of "Messiah" with conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra can be programmed to play nine different versions--the 1741 autograph score; the original premiere on April 17, 1742, in Dublin; four later performances on different dates at Covent Garden in London, and a few others.

Popular as it is now, however, "Messiah" was greeted with some reserve when Londoners first heard it in 1743. Sure, King George II reportedly stood up during the "Hallelujah!" Chorus (either from emotional transport or to relieve tired sitzfleish ) , requiring the whole audience to stand in respect and thereby initiate a tradition adhered to by many even today. But otherwise, many Londoners were offended at the notion of Handel--and his librettist, Charles Jennens--putting excerpts from sacred Scriptures on the stage. It is the use of biblical quotations that makes it a "Sacred" oratorio.

Handel won them over, however, by conducting a series of annual benefit performances for the Foundling Hospital in London, beginning in 1749. After his death in 1759, he bequeathed a copy of the score to the hospital so that it could continue to offer these annual fund-raising concerts.

Legend has it that Handel, who composed the work in 24 days, worked steadily, refusing all food. His tears wet the pages and mixed with the ink. He found himself transported when writing the "Hallelujah!" Chorus. "I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself," he is reported to have said.

Makes for great stories, anyway.

What: Handel's "Messiah."

When: Sunday, Dec. 29, at 6 p.m.

Where: Crystal Cathedral Arboretum, 12141 Lewis St., Garden Grove.

Whereabouts: Take The City Drive exit from the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to Chapman Avenue. Turn right on Chapman to Lewis Street and turn left.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to Call: (714) 971-4150.

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