CAMBRIDGE -- Scott Allen Jarrett went into the Back Bay Chorale's preparations for its 30th anniversary concert as a guest conductor and emerged as the organization's choice for its fifth music director.
Jarrett is only 28, and he has served as assistant to Ann Howard Jones at Boston University. He has sung with the Boston Bach Ensemble and the Schola Cantorum of Boston, and serves as music director of the Brookline Chorus and as director of choral music at the Walnut Hill School. He succeeded Julian Wachner as organist and choirmaster at Marsh Chapel at Boston University, and he has helped prepare concerts for prominent local choruses, including the Back Bay Chorale.
Saturday night's performance of Handel's oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus" was a great success, and Jarrett established himself as the most promising young figure to emerge on the local choral scene since Wachner. Jarrett, who hails from Virginia, has a pleasantly courtly platform manner; he seemed to know every word and note of Handel's 2 1/2 hour score; he understands Handel's gestures and structures. The chorus sounded terrific, well balanced, disciplined, in tune, and responsive to text. If Jarrett was intimidated by the expert and vastly experienced team of soloists and the orchestra of Emmanuel Music, he didn't show it; in a very unassuming way he was clearly in charge. One did wish at points that he would crank up the energy; Handel should never sound merely genteel, especially not in this piece.
"Judas Maccabaeus," written in a burst of nationalistic fervor after the rout of Bonnie Prince Charlie, has always been one of the composer's greatest hits. It is not one of his more profound scores; there is no soul-searching and very little drama. It is mostly flag-waving patriotism, but the music is stirring. There are some exciting touches of orchestral color -- trumpets in the tenor aria, horns in the chorus, but perhaps the most beautiful section of the score is the depiction of the Feast of Lights, or Hanukkah.
Soprano Kendra Colton and mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal had the roles of commentators; both sang with lovely tone and high technical accomplishment. Frank Kelley resourcefully adapted his light tenor to the heroic demands of the title role with vigorous, even explosive accents; musical intelligence carried him over the rough spots. Bass Mark Andrew Cleveland and mezzo-soprano Lynn Torgove were eloquent in smaller roles, and Kathryn Low and James C. Liu stepped out of the chorus for effective solos. The superb continuo team was Michael Beattie (organ and harpsichord) and Shannon Snapp (cello); Jeffrey Work was elegant in the trumpet solo. But this was Jarrett's night -- he's tasteful and talented, someone to keep our eyes and ears on.