Handel: Messiah

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Messiah
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe (soprano), Tim Mead (countertenor), Andrew Staples (tenor), Christopher Purves (baritone); Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
CATALOGUE NO: 2564624055

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Emmanuelle Haïm performs John Tobin’s edition of Handel’s oratorio, essentially giving us the version performed at Covent Garden Theatre in Holy Week 1752. This means, for example, that soprano Lucy Crowe sings the 4/4 version of ‘Rejoice greatly’, while mellifluous countertenor Tim Mead delivers ‘But who may abide’ and ‘Thou art gone up on high’, which Handel had set for the noted castrato Gaetano Guadagni.

Crowe could be neater, however, in her semiquavers, though her light, bright tone is well suited to her part and she’s an expressive performer. So, too, is Mead, while tenor Andrew Staples provides natural diction and open, free tone, also making a feature throughout – as do his colleagues – of discrete and apt decoration. While a full bass may ideally be preferable to Christopher Purves’s generous bass-baritone, he, too, is attentive to the text both in terms of its sound and its meaning, supplying, for instance, considerable dynamic presence in ‘Why do the nations’.

Haïm herself proves broadly sensitive to tempo – the Pastoral Symphony has a siciliano-like swing, though the Amen Chorus could be more bracing – and balance has been excellently managed in what is a resonant acoustic. Le Concert d’Astrée’s chorus numbers 20, whose individual names suggest why – unlike some continental choirs tackling Messiah – they sing virtually without an accent (David Bates has done an excellent job as chorus master); they also keep light on their collective feet. The 26-strong orchestra, too, supplies vitality as well as solemnity and flexibility.

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George Hall