Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra Opening concert, Liturgical Days music festival Handel's 'Messiah' Jerusalem Theater December 23 The opening of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra's Liturgical Days series presented 'Messiah' by Georg Friedrich Handel - a German-born English composer according to English encyclopedias and a German-born German composer according to German ones. First and foremost a composer of secular music, Handel turned to biblical oratorias only late in his life, after his Italian operas had lost their appeal for his British audience. (Born in Halle, Handel moved to England permanently in 1711.) Click for upcoming events calendar! This, perhaps, is why the composer placed emphasis not exclusively on religious dogma, but on the human tragedy of the man who had to suffer the barbarous punishment of crucifixion for his attempts at social reform and justice.Verses such as "He was despised and rejected of men," "He looked for some to have pity on him, but there was no man" and "Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto his" - all from the Hebrew Bible - count among the most poignant passages of this work. Conducted by Laurence Cumming, the JSO performed 'The Messiah' magnificently. The chief hero of the concert, however, was the Latvian Radio Choir, whose members' voices sounded as though they had been hand-picked for sheer beauty, offering a collection of radiant sopranos, brilliant tenors and sonorous low voices. From the strongest fortissimo to the softest pianissimo, the choir illuminated all the pieces' delicate nuances in the most polished manner, with easily flowing coloraturas that bordered on the indescribable. Small yet significant rests between phrases contributed additional power to the climaxes; above all, there was an immense sense of commitment and devotion among the performers. The choir's "Glory to God" was glorious indeed, while its "Hallelujah" was nearly enough to make the walls come tumbling down. With its vivacious, accurate and finely balanced playing, the JSO, for its part, served as a full-fledged partner to the choir. Among the soloists, Claire Meghnagi's bright, light soprano and effortless coloraturas were a pure delight. Her persuasive "Rejoice Greatly" evoked just that feeling in her listeners, and her "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth" was one of the performance's highlights. Tenor James Oxley's soft, appealing voice and expression conveyed the meaning of the text with utmost intensity. Countertenor Yaniv d'Or, though pleasant, didn't seem quite at home with this style of music. Nevertheless, the obviously enthusiastic audience for this quintessentially Christian piece, including many skullcap-wearing Israelis, responded with a thunderous standing ovation.