Handel: Messiah

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Carus
WORKS: Messiah
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Daniel Taylor (countertenor), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass); Kammerchor Stuttgart; Barockorchester Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
CATALOGUE NO: 83.219 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Anglophone soloists join forces with a chamber choir and period-instrument orchestra from Stuttgart in this clean-edged Messiah. Soprano Carolyn Sampson is light and articulate throughout, and like most of her colleagues keeps decoration to a minimum.

Daniel Taylor’s countertenor has a pleasing tone, though an occasional tremulousness makes his pitch uncertain, especially at the ends of phrases, and his manner tends towards the languid. Benjamin Hulett’s fresh-faced tenor is combined with sensitivity to the text but his runs can be a bit smudgy. Peter Harvey’s baritonal bass has some weak areas lower down though he voices the words with psychological penetration and authority. The overall impression is of a good though not quite top-flight quartet.

The choir, some thirty strong, moves lightly and with good rhythmic definition, though their singing could occasionally do with more impetus. The orchestral playing is neat and eminently respectable; where it fails in comparison with some other period versions is in the sheer character of the music-making, especially in relation to the specific meaning of the texts.Similarly conductor Frieder Bernius motivates the music to moderate effect, but there’s a definite dearth of momentum in places.

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This is a Messiah apt to flag. But it’s presented in an acoustic that combines clarity with warmth and spaciousness. Broadly it’s not enough to challenge the leaders in this highly populated field, amongst which Harry Christophers’ second recording with The Sixteen remains a particularly strong contender. George Hall