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National Philharmonic revisits a choral tour de force

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

In the realm of choral masterpieces, there really can be only one standout in this season of joy: "Messiah."

"Handel's 'Messiah' ... is a true masterwork that continues to speak to our hearts year in and year out," said Stan Engebretson, who will present the piece along with the National Philharmonic on Saturday evening at Strathmore. "And it's more than just a holiday tradition -- it's something that lifts your spirits. For us, coming back to the 'Messiah' is like rejoicing, returning to something that means so much to everyone."

Handel's opus magnum is undeniably among the most popular works in Western choral literature, a classic that addresses specific events in the life of Jesus Christ. Divided into three parts, the "Messiah" begins with Advent and Christmas.

Onstage
National Philharmonic Orchestra: Handel's 'Messiah'
» Where: Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
» When: 8 p.m. Saturday; preconcert lecture 6:45 p.m.
» Info: $28 to $81, children 7 to 17 free; 301-581-5100; strathmore.org

"[Handel] would go through the Bible and choose various Scriptures to tell a story and the story development line," Engebretson, the chorale's artistic director, continued. "The life story of Christ and other characters appear as the choir takes on the role of the crowd. They become different people; sometimes they are even shepherds and sheep. In the last part, they take on the rolls of the angels."

After an intermission, chorus, soloists and orchestra pick up the story with selections from part two, chronicling Christ's passion, resurrection, ascension and commitment to spreading Christianity worldwide. Finally, in part three, music and text are taken from the revelation of St. John.

Audiences will hear, in glorious rejoicing, Handel's iconic pieces such as "The Trumpet Shall Sound," "And the Glory of the Lord" and the stellar "Hallelujah Chorus."

Featured soloists include soprano Danielle Talamantes, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wor, tenor Matthew Smith and the full bass voice of Kevin Deas. Collectively, these four professionals bring a wealth of experience, performing with orchestras and opera companies throughout the country.

"This is a huge undertaking, [and] it's very exacting," Engebretson asserted. "It's a spirited, fast and energetic "Messiah" that we do. Ours is very active and animated."

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