Handel: Messiah

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Messiah
PERFORMER: Barbara Schlick (soprano)Sandrine Piau (soprano)Andreas Scholl (alto)Mark Padmore (tenor)Nathan Berg (bass)Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901498/99 DDD
Messiah’s librettist, Jennens, thought Handel’s setting ‘not near so good as he might & ought to have done’ and it got off to a slow start with the London public. But now that it is uniquely popular, what, I asked myself as I peeled off the cellophane, could a French choir and orchestra and polyglot team of soloists add to the 31 Messiahs listed in the current catalogue? In the event, this is a stunning performance, from singers and instrumentalists alike.

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Its only distinctively French quality is the assured approach to French rhythms. Christie’s speeds are refreshingly lively – ‘For behold…’ in Handel’s 4/4 rather than its customary turgid eight.

Choral textures are translucent – details new to me emerged from the delicately drawn counterpoint – and choral phrasing reflects exceptional concern for the meaning of the words. The soloists respond vividly to the changing dramatic demands, and their English is surely freer of accent than were Handel’s Italians. A striking example of the sensitivity which characterises the whole recording is the orchestra matching the stresses of words when imitating vocal phrases.

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If you lack a Messiah, or want to update your recording, this rivals the best of the current offerings. George Pratt