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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Messiah: Oratorio for soloists, chorus and orchestra HWV 56
Susan Roberts, soprano
Liliana Bizineche-Eisinger, mezzo-soprano
Algirdas Janutas, tenor
Benno Schollum, bass-baritone
Sigitas Petrulis, trumpet
Kaunas State Choir
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra/Yehudi Menuhin
Recorded live at Kloster Eberbach in 1996 by courtesy of the Rheingau Music Festival on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Lord Menuhin
WARNER APEX 2564 60819-2 [2CDs 70.33 + 61.29]


As other reviewers have noted previously, the sleeve notes for Apex discs don’t necessarily overload readers with information. This issue contains a detailed track-listing in English together with the libretto and a very short uncredited introduction to Messiah written in English, French and German. Sadly however, no details at all are given about any of the performers, despite the fact that the late Lord Menuhin apparently enjoyed a sustained association with both the orchestra and choir from 1990 until his death in 1998. An extra page or two containing some background explaining this fact would have helped a lot in terms of making sense of this recording and its somewhat unusual collection of artists.

From the very first bars however, it is obvious that there is excellent rapport between conductor and orchestra. Menuhin takes almost all numbers at a distinctly sprightly pace but draws from his players crisp and satisfying playing throughout. The choir holds up well too, so that the only occasion when they seem rushed is during ‘But thanks be to God.’ Apart from some fairly heavily accented English pronunciation, which is certainly no worse than some attempts by UK home-teams tackling French or German, the choral singing is of a uniformly high standard. The orchestra sounds to be using modern instruments and the choir seems to be quite a large group.

The male vocal soloists are a problem however. Both tenor and bass seem taxed by the virtually all their music, with a tendency to shout at the top of their ranges. Algirdas Janutas (tenor) is also sorely afflicted by an excess of inappropriate ornamentation and Benno Schollum (who is surely more baritone than bass) has difficulty with both the low notes in ‘The people that walked in darkness’ and with the runs in both ‘Why do the nations rage?’ and ‘The trumpet shall sound.’ Neither is an ideal choice for this work.

The women soloists are very much better. Liliana Bizineche-Eisinger does exceptionally well with all of her arias which usefully include the second section of ‘He was despised’ and also ‘Thou art gone up on high.’ She has an appealing mezzo–soprano voice of which she is very much in charge. The soprano Susan Roberts copes equally ably and is as comfortable with the demands of ‘Rejoice greatly’ as she is with ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ Such is the difference between the two men and the women however, that I was tempted to skip all the tracks for the male soloists on this disc at second and third hearings.

Given that this is a live recording, the sound is generally very clean with only an occasional tendency for levels to overload slightly. It is worth having for the orchestral playing, for the singing by the choir and women soloists, and for the splendid playing of trumpeter Sigitas Petrulis, because of its bargain price.

Bill Kenny


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