Those for whom Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Handel’s Messiah got a jump start on the festivities this past weekend at The Granada Theatre.

The Santa Barbara Choral Society, with a substantial chamber orchestra joining it on stage, gave a sumptuous reading of the beloved oratorio on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Music director and conductor JoAnne Wasserman led the chorus, soloists and instrumentalists with her usual crisp, defining style.

Opera diva Marilyn Horne, who heads the vocal program at the Music Academy of the West, chose the four young soloists: soprano Julie Davis, mezzo-soprano Ana Mihanovic, tenor Joshua Stewart and bass-baritone Even Hughes. Davis, Mihanovic and Stewart are academy alumni; Hughes won the grand prize in the Marilyn Horne Foundation competition.

Messiah was dashed off by Georg Frideric Handel with characteristic speed in just 24 days, in 1741. Handel was born in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. It was a banner year for musical geniuses.

The concert included all of Messiah, Part One, with such exquisite melodies as And the Glory of the Lord and For Unto Us a Child is Born, with chorus in exalted voice, and portions of Parts Two and Three.

Handel is said to have told a visitor, after completing the Hallulah Chorus, “I have seen the face of God.” At Sunday’s performance, as soon as the familiar opening notes of the chorus sounded, the audience rose and sang the Halleuluah lustily, right along with the chorus on stage.

Of course, Messiah is much more than the Hallelulah Chorus, which ends Part Two. It was preceded by such lovely solos as Behold, and See If There Be Any Sorrow and He Was Cut Off Out of the Land of the Living, sung by Stewart, and Why Do the Nations So Furiously Rage Together, with bass-baritone Hughes giving a profoundly moving rendition.

Mihanovic’s rich mezzo fronted the chorus in O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion. Soprano Davis, also a superb singer, moved as if without effort through her four recitatives in the first part, concluding with her duet with Mihanovic, He Shall feed His flock Like a Shephard.

Section Three included Davis singing I Know That My Redeemer Liveth and Hughes delivering a majestic The Trumpet Shall Sound. Chorus, soloists and orchestra joined in the climactic Worthy Is the Lamb and the concluding intricacies of the Amen.

For anyone unable to attend the newly-restored Granada’s first-ever Messiah, or anyone who simply wants another seasonal jolt of Handel, there will be the annual “Messiah Sing Along” at First Presbyterian Church, at State and Constance streets, on Dec. 16. Soloists and the orchestra will sing and play the score, and the chorus will be made up of those who buy a $10 ticket (benefiting the Food Bank). Warmup starts at 7:30 p.m.

Hallelulah will once more float into the December evening.

Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.