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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah (1742) (highlights)
Felicity Palmer (soprano)
Helen Watts (contralto)
Ryland Davies (tenor)
John Davies (bass)
John Shirley-Quirk (bass)
English Chamber Orchestra and Choir/Raymond Leppard
1976? ADD
WARNER CLASSICS APEX 0927-48726-2 [73.23]


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This is a curious CD. There is no useful information in the cased booklet as to the date and location of the performance, and precious little about anything else. The source appears to be a 1976 Erato disc almost certainly a complete Messiah – and the question arises whether so frequently recorded and performed a work really justifies a ‘highlights’ disc. If so this is not the one to choose. It gallops through 19 numbers in 73, minutes so one gets a fairly large helping of plums; but in a work of this magnitude a miss is as good as a mile.

The distinguished soloists are in good voice, the choral sections well focused and the orchestra is kept on its toes; but what puts this whistle-stop tour of Messiah out of court are its forced climaxes and absurdly fast tempi. A certain lack of baroque authenticity would be acceptable had Leppard not decided to replace the over-stuffed sound that, until recently, characterises other interpretations by a performance that does scant justice either to Handel or his own talented forces. As everybody knows, Messiah is a narrative that relies for its splendour and perennial durability on the dramatic continuity that it brings to the story. We are now used to compilations of juicy bits from ‘classical masterpieces’, but even one who has never heard Messiah might feel rather short changed by this lightning tour and start to wonder what all the fuss is about.

Roy Brewer



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