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George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah - Highlights
Sara Macliver (soprano)
Alexandra Sherman (contralto)
Christopher Field (counter-tenor)
Paul McMahon (tenor)
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass)
Orchestra of the Antipodes/Antony Walker
Recorded 10-14 July 2002 at the Cardinal Cerretti Memorial Chapel, St. Patrickís Estate, Manly, Sydney, Australia DDD
ABC CLASSICS 980 046-9 [73:02]

Messiah is certainly Handelís supreme achievement and as an oratorio the work is without rival. In 1741 Handel was invited to Dublin by the Lord Lieutenant of the City and the directors of several charities. For the trip Handel decided to compose a new oratorio. He utilised a script that Charles Jenner had prepared for him from the Scriptures.

I have come across the conducting of Antony Walker previously on a recent release of Handelís oratorio Semele on ABC Classics where he directed the Sirius Ensemble and the Cantillation choir to great effect. On this release Walkerís control of the vocal group Cantillation and the Orchestra of the Antipodes does not have anywhere like the same authority in a generally disappointing reading.

The solo singing on this ABC Classics release is not spectacular particularly the unsteady contralto of Alexandra Sherman who sounds nervous with a most edgy timbre. The soprano Sara Macliver gives a rather nondescript performance which comes across as lacking in character with little vocal presence. The counter-tenor Christopher Field, tenor Paul McMahon and bass Teddy Tahu Rhodes all give reasonably steady performances but seem to get caught-up in the general malaise. The orchestral playing from the period instrument ensemble is competent for the most part as is the singing from Cantillation but the enthusiasm seems to run out of steam. Any performance of Handelís Messiah deserves and requires far more persuasive delivery and commitment than this bland attempt.

In an extremely crowded market there are many excellent recordings of Messiah in the catalogues. My primary recommendation for the complete Messiah is the wonderful interpretation from the Bach Collegium Japan under Masaaki Suzuki on BIS CD 891/892. Conductor Suzuki is in total control of his soloists, chorus and players providing an intense and inspirational reading which is beautifully recorded.

ABC Classics have not provided any texts whatsoever for this highlights release which is a shame. The recorded sound quality is fine.

Rather lacklustre performances from all concerned. There are many better versions of Messiah available in the catalogues.

Michael Cookson

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