When Glyndebourne Opera decided to perform Cavalliís operas in
the 1960s they employed Raymond Leppard to produce editions which
filled out the orchestration and adapted them to modern taste.
At that period the scores of Monteverdi and Cavalli operas were
regarded as too sparse to perform in the original. Perhaps at
some future period these adaptations will be dug out and performed
as historical items, showing how the 1960s viewed Cavalli and
Baron Van Swieten and his Society of Associated Cavaliers wanted
to perform the works of Handel in Vienna in the late 1780s, they employed Mozart to produce an
edition to adapt them to contemporary taste. Handelís orchestrations,
with their dependence on strong bass lines and top lines filled
in with harpsichord, must have seemed rather stark to Mozartian
Vienna. Also, Handelís use of organ continuo in the choral numbers
would have caused problems. So Mozart produced added wind parts.
He had Handelís vocal lines and string parts copied into a new
score and then added wind. They used a German translation of
the English text. These were not the only changes, some solos
were re-allocated to a different voice part and ĎThe Trumpet
shall soundí was extensively re-written because the baroque
art of high trumpet playing was something foreign to 1780s Vienna.
The result is a fascinating snapshot of one great composerís
view of another.
are, perhaps, three reasons for deciding to perform Mozartís
arrangement of Messiah. The first is to gain an insight
into the workings of Mozartís mind and to hear what how he clothes
the Handelian orchestra in his own wind elaborations. Secondly,
a large choir might be uncomfortable singing with a Handelian
orchestra and feel that the weight of the choir needs the fullness
of Mozartís orchestration. The third is adherence to lazy tradition,
because people are uncomfortable with Handelís own sound-world.
raise this question because this recording of the Handel/Mozart
version, made in 1988, makes some editorial decisions that make
us question their rationale for performing the work. As an aside,
we should note that 1988 was the year that Trevor Pinnockís
Messiah was recorded. This was the recording of Messiah
which aimed, very successfully, to use period performance to
re-invigorate the traditional edition.
their recording, Mackerras and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
opted to use Mozartís orchestrations. But they reverted to Handelís
original English, transposed Mozartís changed solo numbers back
to the familiar Handelian voice allocations, re-instated the
very unViennese high trumpet part in ĎThe trumpet shall soundí
and added a harpsichord continuo, which tinkles away throughout.
Mozart probably did use a continuo, but he would have used a
piano; continuo had become far less important. After all we
rarely perform his symphonies with continuo.
result of all these decisions is to make one feel that the intention
of this recording was not to explore Mozartís view of Handel,
but simply to make available a traditional performance of Messiah
with all the bells and whistles. They could just as well have
used Ebenezer Proutís additional accompaniments; using Mozart
somehow sanctions the change.
apologise if this sounds a little too purist, but this is one
area where Iím with Mahler in regarding tradition as schlamperei.
If we want to perform the Handel/Mozart Der Messias or
even the Handel/Prout Messiah letís do so, but letís
do it properly and not simply take the bits from it that we
like and reject those we either donít like or are not used to.
said, this is a ripping good performance. Mackerras has a fine
group of soloists who have a good knowledge of Handelian style.
Mackerrasís speeds are just right for his forces and the choruses
sound fast when they ought to but never rushed. The Huddersfield
Choral Society are on pretty good form and the faster passages
come over with decent clarity. Philip Langridge sounds a little
too operatic for my taste, too big toned; but he undoubtedly
does know how to find his way around the score. Felicity Lott
is radiant and spins a wonderfully fine vocal line. Felicity
Palmer sounds a little Ďmumsyí in her opening solo, but ĎHe
was despisedí (done with its da capo) is as warm and
passionate as you could want. Robert Lloyd does wonders at getting
his dark bass voice round the Handelian fioriture. The
soloists discreetly ornament where necessary, though I think
they use pretty standard baroque ornamentation rather than something
more 18th century.
course, another point to bear in mind is that singing in this
orchestration the singers need to have bigger voices than when
using Handelís own version. The wind are omnipresent in the
arias and so the soloists require more power. There is an interesting
tale told about John Barbirolli and Kathleen Ferrier. She was
singing the alto solos in Messiah at the Hallť and complained
to Barbirolli that one of the solos (possibly ĎHe was despisedí)
was so tiring. Barbirolli realised that sheíd possibly never
sung it in Handelís version and omitted all the added parts,
the result transformed her account of the aria.
uses the traditional cuts so that part 2 loses four items and
part 3 loses four items. The disc comes with an interesting
essay that explains the Mozartian background of the work and
makes it clear what editorial decisions were made, so that we
know what we are hearing. There is also a libretto.
main delight of this recording, though, is to be found in Mozartís
wind parts. They gloriously burble along, commenting on Handelís
score almost as if we were eavesdropping on Mozart himself as
he read the score and made comments. For a committed baroque
idealist this is something of a guilty pleasure, akin to adding
whipped cream to a dessert which does not really need it.
is a lot of work to be done on performance practice in Mozartís
version of Messiah. It would be interesting if a period
performance ensemble would take it in hand and give us an ur-Messias,
complete with forte-piano continuo and ornamentation in contemporary
you want a traditional Messiah with added wind parts,
then you cannot go wrong with this one. It has the added advantage
of having Sir Charles Mackerras at the helm and a group of soloists
who, even in 1988, would have been unlikely to record the work
with a period practice group. For enthusiasts of Handelís own
Messiah I recommend at least one recording of the Mozart
orchestration, as a guilty pleasure for solitary listening.