Handel: Messiah

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Messiah
PERFORMER: Sylvia McNair, Anne Sofie von Otter, Michael Chance, Jerry Hadley, Robert LloydAcademy and Chorus of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: 434 695-2 DDD
‘Sublime’, ‘grand’, ‘tender’ is how the Dublin Journal greeted the first performance of Handel’s Messiah on 13 April 1742. I’ll gladly use those same adjectives to describe this live performance by Sir Neville Marriner and his team, recorded in Dublin on 13 April 1992 (and broadcast by Channel 4 and RTE) to mark the work’s 250th anniversary.

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Marriner was one of the first conductors to reintroduce more authentic performance practices into the playing of Handel’s music, so it’s no surprise that he employs here a modestly sized chorus and fairly sparse orchestration, and makes sure tempos are fleet and nimble. The result is a well-paced, flowing performance that held me in thrall from first to last.

The soloists are often superb, always engaging. Michael Chance and Jerry Hadley impress and Anne Sofie von Otter’s ‘He was despised’ is intensely moving. Robert Lloyd has a few uncertain moments, but sings a magnificent ‘The trumpet shall sound’. Sylvia McNair’s fragile soprano may not suit all tastes, but I like the way she makes ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ touchingly personal rather than declamatory.

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The choruses could be a little sharper at times – the live sound is not quite perfect – but let’s not nitpick. There is a special vitality and warmth here that allows the performance to transcend its minor infelicities. The monumentalism and zeal of more traditional Messiahs may have their appeal, but Marriner reveals the humanity and compassion of Handel’s music. Sublime, grand and tender. Graham Lock