Handel: Messiah

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Messiah
PERFORMER: Ailish Tynan (soprano), Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Matthew Rose (bass); Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: 268 1562

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This live recording of Handel’s iconic oratorio benefits from the solid virtues of the long tradition of musical excellence at King’s College, Cambridge, without quite exemplifying them at their best nor, indeed, transcending them.

The acoustic itself is a shade over-reverberant for a work designed for a concert hall rather than a church. The choir displays a gentle vitality, and precision of ensemble is not always immaculate. Though perfectly decent, the orchestra could do with a stronger sense of the picturesque purpose of many of Handel’s illustrative accompaniments, which are more vivid in many other performances.

Stephen Cleobury’s leadership is all present and correct and shows a consciousness of the new orthodoxies of Handelian performance – the soloists supply discreet and apt decorations, for instance – but there’s a general air of respectability that occasionally lapses into the dull. Neither the sprightly chorus ‘For unto us a child is born’, for instance, nor the succeeding Pastoral Symphony, has enough energy or character.

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None of the four soloists is really at his or her most expressive, though one believes in Ailish Tynan’s commitment and spontaneity even if her voice is not flattered by the sound. Among the many better versions the second recording by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen has a great deal going for it in its combination of drama with contemplation. George Hall