Handel: Messiah

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Coro
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Messiah
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Christopher Purves (bass); The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16062

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This is The Sixteen’s second recorded Messiah under Harry Christophers (third if you count a live recording with Ton Koopman), and by some distance it’s the best. Ahead of the choir’s 150th performance of the work (at the Barbican in December) and 30th birthday celebrations next year, it’s also something of a family affair. Three of the four outstanding soloists – fine Handelians all – cut their teeth in the choir, and Catherine Wyn-Rogers has been a regular soloist. Crucially they don’t stand apart, regally dispensing arias between familiar chorus; pre-eminently this is an ‘ensemble’ Messiah with everything (including the superb instrumental playing and imaginatively realised continuo) directed towards the unfolding of an involving theological narrative. Part 2 in particular has conspicuous coherence and energy. The Pastoral Symphony, for example, dissolves directly into a vividly characterised tableau: the Angel of the Lord might flap its wings somewhat measuredly, but only so that the multitude of Angels waiting around the corner can register maximum impact; and when the choir sings ‘Glory to God’ it really means it as Christophers encourages the tenors to go for the jugular on ‘Highest’. Occasionally the choir can sound a mite comfortable, but there’s real spite in ‘He trusted in God’, and among the soloists Christopher Purves brings a grit which complements the innate stylish lyricism of the rest. For those disinclined to live with Marc Minkowski’s idiosyncrasies, Paul McCreesh’s evangelising or William Christie’s Gallic perspective, Christophers’ is a new version to rival Trevor Pinnock’s more ‘mainstream’ 1988 Messiah – and by a pinch, eclipses it. Paul Riley