Handel: Messiah

LABELS: Collegium. Hendrickson Worship
WORKS: Messiah
PERFORMER: Joannne Lunn (soprano), Melanie Marshall (mezzo-soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), Christopher Purves (bass-baritone); Cambridge Singers; Royal PO/John Rutter
CATALOGUE NO: Collegium COLCD 132 (UK release); Hendrickson Worship 56126X (North America)
Handel’s oratorio is presented here with a modern-instrument orchestra and a choir of 30 voices. The orchestral playing is very acceptable, and the Cambridge Singers easily navigate the notes with a good awareness of text.Of the four soloists, the best is tenor James Gilchrist, whose vocally clean singing is beautifully enunciated and imaginatively decorated, also showing a keen sensitivity to the harmonic underlay. Bass-baritone Christopher Purves is fluent too, but here a true Handelian bass is wanted. Purves inclines more closely to a baritone in weight and colour; his lowest notes are his weakest.Pleasing though the voices of the mezzo and soprano soloists are, both disappoint. Melanie Marshall is vocally lightweight and her tone loses quality in the runs. Joanne Lunn’s performance is certainly the least responsive to words and the result is sometimes anodyne. She’s also occasionally discomfited by conductor John Rutter’s choices of tempo.But it’s in his conducting that the real problem lies. While the performance is brisk and efficient, there’s a lack of drama and dynamic range that results, all too often, in a blandness that is at odds with Handel’s dynamic scheme. The big moments simply do not blaze as they should. An acoustic on the reverberant side does not help. For a more characterful approach, I would recommend trying William Christie’s Messiah on the Harmonia Mundi label.