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John Eliot Gardiner's is a highly musical and inspired account of Messiah, featuring an excellent group of soloists and an outstanding period-instrument band. With dance rhythms athletically sprung and da capo arias tastefully ornamented, the performance generates consistent interest and is lively in spite of its length. There is splendid choral singing from the Monteverdi Choir--the ending of "All We Like Sheep" is quite potent--and much wonderful work from the soloists. The recording, made in 1982, is impeccable. --Ted Libbey
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John Eliot Gardiner's period instrument version can be confidently mentioned in the same breath with any of the great "Messiah" recordings of the past. In fact, in many ways, at the time of this recording (1982) it was the most completely satisfying "Messiah" ever released. Using the reduced performing forces and older instruments that are common to almost every "Messiah" recording of the last couple decades, Gardiner nevertheless projects almost all of the oratorio's size and significance in a performance that is still very intimate in its physical dimensions and sound.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Monteverdi Choir gives a superb performance in this album. Gardiner creates a perfect balance in the voice parts and has the ability to showcase the right voice part at the right time and it is not always the main melody. It is really a treat to hear this type of interpretation and particularly in this work. Moreover,the choir sings with great joy and devotional intensity.
My PERSONAL assessment of the soloists is as follows: Margaret Marshall (soprano) while possessing all the correctness she should have is simply mediocre if compared to many other sopranos (who have recorded this) such as Sylvia McNair. The same description could apply to Catherine Robbin (Mezzo) if you compare her to Anne Sofie Von Otter. The Tenor Anthony Rolfe-Johnson is a joy to hear; his voice is rich and his delivery simply wonderful; every sound perfection. Robert Hale is an excellent bass and performs his solos quite well. The least skilled in his solos is the countertenor: Charles Brett. What a disappointment when he sang 'But who may abide the day of his coming'. His voice lacked buoyancy, interest and showed no drama which ruined it for me. He did it correctly, but completely academically. The irony is that in 1982 Gardiner had in his group a countertenor who was to become (within a few years) the KING of all countertenors: Michael Chance.
However, when it comes to soloists,I think we all have our preferences to which we are fully entitled, so anyone else would probably not assess this aspect as I do!
GRAMOPHONE: 'A splendid record.....The subdued opening of the 'Hallelujah' and 'Amen' choruses are ideas that really do work, at any rate, when there is inspired direction as Gardiner gives. All his forces, vocal and orchestral, respond, as does the listener..'
Gardiner says it best about his recording:"The delight in all of this lies in combining the agile adult voices with the transparency and expressive range of period instruments. Their combined technical virtuosity serves not as an end, but as a means of ridding "Messiah" of its Victorian sanctimonious pomp. In this way the Handelian yoke is made easy and his burden light."