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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah (1742)
Sara Macliver (soprano)
Alexandra Sherman (alto)
Christopher Field (counter-tenor)
Paul McMahon (tenor)
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass)
Cantillation
Orchestra of the Antipodes/Antony Walker
Recorded July 2002 at the Cardinal Cerretti Memorial Chapel, St Patrick’s Estate, Manly, Sydney
ABC 472 601-2 [2 CDs 141.12]

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As the booklet notes disclose this recording was made in conjunction with a television film, Messiah, broadcast by ABC and also available on DVD. There are some colour stills in the booklet that may come from the televised performance – Velasquez red and bible black – made in the Cardinal Cerretti Memorial Chapel in Manly. It is a youthful performance, with young soloists, a new orchestra and a professional choir. The orchestra is the Orchestra of the Antipodes – at least it’s better than the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment or Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (Woolf’s Law of orchestral names; the more pretentious the name the worse the band). Cantillation is a fine choir, versatile and tonally flexible. The stage is set for a vigorous and enjoyable performance.

Antony Walker’s Sinfony to Part One is unusually grave, and well shaped. Tenor Paul McMahon floats some rather floridly excessive ornaments in Comfort ye and there is a poor edit I think at 1.05 into his Ev’ry Valley. A promising musician his singing here isn’t climactic enough. Bass Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Christchurch born) has a tendency slightly to stint on note values (as in Thus saith the Lord) though he has an intrinsically fine and authoritative voice. Antony Walker has engaged a countertenor, Christopher Field, twenty-five at the time of the recording and one who has an intriguing and potentially valuable part to play in musical life. A sweet voice, ringing and full at the top where intonation doesn’t falter and vibrance is maintained, it’s as yet rather unformed at the bottom where it lacks resonance. The result – as in But who may abide – is at the moment a case of two voices, imperfectly equalized, and one that finds some of the runs still awkward, revealing technical problems yet to be overcome. But Field has obvious potential and I hope we hear much more of him. Alexandra Sherman’s O thou that tellest is full of musical shape though the voice here isn’t what I’d call a versatile alto, lacking colour. The chorus makes itself unambiguously heard in For unto us a child is born – especially some very well drilled sopranos and in Rejoice greatly soprano Sara Macliver evokes a certain expressive purity (especially in some excellent high notes) whilst contrasting this with an almost breathless elation. Sherman’s He was despised is actually relatively slow, though avoiding the merely reverential. Chances of dramatic display see Rhodes sturdy and masculine in Why do the nations but the tone is not really centred to a core and McMahon is equability itself in Thou shalt break them – his runs are explicitly mocking and he seems to see the aria as an exercise in irony. As a cure for this peculiar delusion I suggest he listens to Walter Widdop’s recording of it for an hour a day for the next fourteen years. Much better is Macliver’s I know my Redeemer liveth – with its crystalline certainties and force. But once again contemporary singers lack the heft of their predecessors – Rhodes’ The trumpet shall sound which, with Horace Stevens and trumpeter Ernest Hall was so stirring, is here decent but tepid.

All this sounds rather like a litany of complaint and nostalgic reflections on the great Handelians of the past. But there are some fine things here; it’s generally well paced, though not without its idiosyncrasies, and ornamentation is kept to within reasonable stylistic bounds. In the end though Messiah lives through voice and sinew and heart and there’s not enough of them here.

Jonathan Woolf



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