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Handel’s Messias i Storkyrkan
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739) Messiah (1741) [116.13]
Christina Högman (soprano)
Kristin Hammarström (alto)
Lynton Atkinson (tenor)
Stefan Dahlberg (tenor)
Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (bass)
Petteri Salomaa (bass)
Storkyrkans kör (Storkyrkan Choir)
Orchestra from Swedish Radio Symphonics/Gustav Sjökvist
Recorded at Live concerts in Storkyrkan, Stockholm 3-14 December 1997
NOSAG CD 2027 [51.45 + 64.28]

 

This disc was recorded at a series of live concerts in 1997 in Storkyrkan, Stockholm (Stockholm Cathedral) to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their annual performances of Messiah. For performances from 1927 to 1977 the performers were taken from Stockholm Opera and singers such as Brigit Nilsson, Elisabeth Söderström, Gösta Winberg, Kerstin Meyer and Nicolai Gedda have been involved. More recently performances have been organised by the cathedral itself. On this disc the cathedral choir (Storkyrkans kör) are accompanied by the Swedish Radio Symphonic Orchestra and conducted by Gustav Sjökvist.

The recording lists a choir of 54 and an orchestra of 29, playing on modern instruments. At first sight this would seem to be inclined towards the choir, in terms of balance. Granted, they do make a light, clear sound but the recording favours the voices and I would happily have had a slightly stronger orchestral sound, particularly when it came to the woodwind.

Perhaps because the annual Messiah performances have a tradition of favouring young singers, this disc uses two bass soloists and two tenors. Though this generally entails a simple apportionment of arias, ‘The trumpet shall sound’ is sung by a different singer from the recitative before it, which seems a little perverse especially as Karl-Magnus Fredriksson’s vocally brilliant performance of the aria is one of the highlights of the disc.

The version of Messiah performed is a moderately traditional one: ‘But who may abide’/’For he is like a refiner’s fire’ is sung by the alto soloist, ‘Rejoice greatly’ is sung in the 6/8 time, ‘How beautiful are the feet’ is sung by the soprano soloist, ‘He was despised’ is shorn of its da capo. Both Part 2 and Part 3 are cut; it is particularly a shame that Part 3 loses the alto recitative ‘Then shall be brought to pass’, ‘Death where is thy sting’ and the chorus ‘Thanks be to God’. The cuts are made doubly confusing as the result is re-numbered, giving the unwary listener no indication that cuts have been made.

Only one of the soloists is Anglophone; by and large both choir and soloists sing in creditable clear English, with a diction that is quite enviable. It is true that the odd diphthong goes astray and it is perhaps unfortunate that the opening soloist (tenor Stefan Dahlberg) has perhaps the weakest English speaking skills.

The fine, rich-toned alto soloist is Kristin Hammarström; She has a good, smooth line And her performance of ‘He was despised’ has a noble tone, though the aria is delivered quite fleetly, in the modern manner. Soprano Christina Högman has a richer-toned voice than I am used to. Her version of the soprano’s opening sequence in Act 1 was admirably dramatic and she also brings out the drama in ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’.

English tenor Lynton Atkinson is allocated the notable sequence of recitative, arioso and aria in part 2 (‘They rebuke’, ‘Behold and see’, ‘He was cut off’, ‘But thou didst not leave’) and his performance made one wish that he had been allowed to perform all of the arias. The other tenor, Stefan Dahlberg, delivers his arias with a notable dramatic swagger.

In many ways a traditional performance; speeds are never overly fast and though the complement of performers is relatively chamber-sized, it has a stateliness associated with larger forces though some of this might be related to the acoustics of Storkyrkan. That said, the choral forces display an admirable fleetness in the faster numbers. In fact, the choir’s contribution is one of the most admirable things about this recording and certainly a reason for returning to it. Their lithe performance has an admirable clarity and does not lack power when necessary; they bring an unhackneyed freshness to the work.

I honestly cannot see this recording ever being a main-stream recommendation for Messiah. It is an entirely creditable performance with performers who are not without interest. With such a strong choral performance and a fine, modern instrumental accompaniment, these discs have much to recommend them so anyone who is curious to explore the Swedish Messiah tradition can feel safe buying them.

Robert Hugill

 



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