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George Frideric Handel: Messiah
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Handel: Messiah, HWV 56 (Live)
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As a steady favourite with audiences, Handel's most famous oratorio "Messiah" has met regularly with rapturous receptions ever since its premiere back in 1742! This three-part masterpiece portrays the life of the "anointed one" (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word 'Messiah'), from the Annunciation and his birth to his death on the cross and revelation, and contains a considerable number of baroque super-hits - including the world-famous 'Hallelujah Chorus'. What makes the present complete recording into something really special is, above all, the successful interpretation with its excellent line-up of performers: Julia Doyle, Lawrence Zazzo, Steve Davislim and Neal Davies, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks (recently called "a new center for historically informed performance practice") under the overall direction of Peter Dijkstra, accompanied by B'Rock, the Belgian Baroque Orchestra Ghent.
Classics Today: Artistic Quality 9 / Sound Quality 10
"Dijkstra understands the dramatic necessities and organizational demands of a large work of many and varied parts, and he brings it all together with managerial skill and interpretive insight comparable to the best on disc; the energized performers and charged ambience owe much to the benefit of the live concert setting, performances in Munich in November, 2014. I'll never be one to say that the world has too many Messiah recordings, especially if the next new one is as good as this." --David Hurwitz, Classicstoday.com, 2015
Top customer reviews
Where does this release fall in the continuum of possibilities?
Well, let's start with size or number of players and singers. The period instrument band that accompanies is from Ghent, Belgium. It's not a shy outfit, if that is what anybdy was expecting. The nuances are lively, welcome and above all, consistently stylish. A sense of underlying dance music forms comes through, though nothing is sung or played to diminish the path-breaking ways that Handel draws on traditions while inventing and re-inventing what was then becoming that new musical thing, the oratorio.
If the period instrument players are alert and generous, the medium sized chorus (Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks) also rises to the occasion with superlative singing that would be very difficult to better, no matter whom else a listener tries out for choral comparisons. Their director, Peter Dijkstra, is leaving soon to take up the Netherlands Chamber Choir as his musical residence, so this particular release can hardly help having a special tinge of valedictory address to dance through its admittedly high sense of celebration. Remember, please, this is a 'live' recording, so its peerless Period Instrument and Choral technique was captured, right on the spot. Bravo!
As tends to be the case when it comes to Messiah soloists, we get a bit of a mixed bag. Soprano Julia Doyle repeats her entirely lovely reading with warm deepening, having sung this part with Stephen Layton and Polyphony in a bright and shining set on label, Hyperion. Our tenor is Steve Davislim. His voice is a wonderful thing just in itself, physically and musically speaking. Hearing him in Handel's writing for tenor is as gossamer indelible a moment as sipping a priceless aged port served in an etched lead crystal tumbler with platinum rim. If he survives comparisons with great Messiah singers of the past, by the end of the second Passion-telling section, I doubt that anyone will wish to exchange him at all. Bravo!
The third singer is countertenor Laurence Zazzo. He has a stronger voice than many countertenors who have borne the challenges of Handel's drama, as well as the composer's florid writing. Let me admit that I find it hard to hear any countertenor so far recorded sing the Part Two aria, He was despised. I still have women like Dame Janet Baker, Yvonne Minton, Bernarda Fink, Monica Groop – and yes, the inimitable Kathleen Ferrier – occupying my ears' imagination when it comes to Handel and the Messiah. That said, Zazzo commits without reservation, and wins kudos. His singing is dramatically involved, and he has his shining moments in some of the more florid writing. He ends the Despised aria with an especially floating yet intense legato that, yes, touches a listener's heart. Even a hardened old thumper like mine.
Fourth, we are left hearing Bass-Baritone Neal Davies. He is perhaps the most experienced Messiah soloist of the four at hand. He really does little wrong, dramatically or musically. Listening to his aria, The trumpet shall sound, ends up being a clincher moment. So, too, is the rage aria that comes earlier, conveying both stylish flourishes and narrative vigor.
It was long before the final great Handel fugue on 'Amen' that this set joined all the others kept. I suppose some might gripe that things are so middling and mainstream here, despite all the allure and what anybody must recognize as outstanding singing and playing. I suspect this set will have staying power, just like one of my other favorites led by the late Sir Charles Mackerras. (EMI, now Warner, if it gets re-released?) Bravo!
With so many recordings of "Messiah" out there (and own most of them) one wonders why the chance is taken to continue to release more. And yet, as I discovered with last year's release of "Messiah" by Boston's Handel & Haydn Society under Harry Christophers, there is most often something that sets each and every recorded performance apart from each other. Sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes they're not.
I found the Handel & Haydn Society's recording of last year to be excellent due to its almost conversational in overall tone while it still maintained a strong and rugged sounding "Messiah." Christophers took a much more aggressive approach with the Boston forces than he had in either of his two previous recordings with his own ensemble The Sixteen.
But, I'm not here to review the H &H recording as i did that last year. So, what makes Dijkstra and his forces deserve a 5 star review? First of all, there's the authoritative quality he brings out of the orchestra, the chorus and the soloists. There are no weak spots to be found in any of the three. The orchestra precise, deliberate and has a full sound. The chorus matches the orchestra in the same attributes and their English is top notch. With There is no need to worry that the text will not be understood performed by a non-English chorus - the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks. They're clearer than may English speaking choruses.
The soloists are not unfamiliar names and they do a splendid job. They ornament their lines more than most performers do, yet their ornamentation does not sound unnatural or clumsy (one always wonders what kind of ornamentation Handel expected of his singers when it came to the da capo sections of his arias. in so many recordings of Handel's vocal works we get very little ornamentation and yet the purpose of the da capo sections of these arias was for the soloists to show off their technique.) Special mention must go to Lawrence Zazzo for the timbre of his voice. He truly sounds like a mezzo here. If you weren't aware of who the soloist was, you'd likely assume that it was a female mezzo. that's how rich and smooth his tone is. Julia Doyle is also pure delight - as she was on the earlier Stephen Layton "Messiah" - which is another top notch recording. here, though, she ornaments much more with complete success.
This new "Messiah" recording for 2015 could easily be your first and only choice of the work. It stands firmly alongside the best!