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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah (1741)
CD 1
Part I [59:06]
Part II (beginning) [14:21]
CD 2
Part II (conclusion) [46:24]
Part III [30:48]
Margaret Price (soprano)
Hanna Schwarz (alto)
Stuart Burrows (tenor)
Simon Estes (bass)
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Sir Colin Davis
rec. November 1984, Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany.
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 4800120 [73:27 + 77:12] 

 

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Previously available on Philips Digital Classics with cloudy sky picture on the cover, this early digital recording still sounds fresh as a daisy, and is definitely superior to the now rather old-fashioned sounding 1966 recording with Colin Davis which you can still find on Philips Duo. Davis finds himself somewhere in that betwixt and between ground between what might be seen as ‘authentic’ performance and that earlier LSO recording in this outing with the Bayerischen Rundfunks. The orchestral sound is full without sounding stodgy, and the instrumental colour and vocal accompaniment is helped along by a nicely played harpsichord continuo, but while this is far from being a minimalist chamber recording, it certainly doesn’t have the feeling of ‘massed forces’. There is historical precedent for huge numbers of musicians in this work, and it was such a performance in 1791 which is said to have impressed Haydn enough to make a start on his Creation

The strengths of this recording certainly outweigh any weaknesses, and I for one am very glad to have this re-release available. Stuart Burrows is good, if occasionally a little hard toned and lacking in variety in his vocal colour for some of the longer solos to be entirely enjoyable. His gentle expressiveness in Thy rebuke hath broken His heart shows an entirely different side however. Simon Estes is a cracking good bass – suitably biblical and dramatic, even if the texts aren’t always easy to follow. The texts are not given in the booklet by the way, but at budget level I suppose this isn’t such a big surprise. Hanna Schwarz is a strong alto – also more dramatic than really lyrical, which is however good for most of her music in the Messiah. Margaret Price is really quite the star of this production, showing how easy it can be to be comprehendible in the recitatives, and both lyrical and dramatic. She manages to lift the mood in Rejoice greatly, and runs through all of that coloratura figuration with elegant ease. I know that my Redeemer liveth is a top aria for soprano, and I know of few better performances than the one on this recording. 

The orchestra is good, as is the choir, although the German origins of the choral singers is not always equally well disguised. The men for instance, sing The Lord gave the Word more like Helood gave ze verd – and if you listen carefully you just know it’s not English choral singing. This is not always a guarantee of quality I know, but all that extra articulation is zere fo’a resun: the reason being that the words are otherwise very hard to follow indeed. At least the choir is well disciplined and nicely in tune, can do a beautiful pianissimo and indeed, where the music demands rhythmic precision they are very good indeed. One of my most treasured LPs is that of the Portsmouth Sinfonia, featuring the Portsmouth Sinfonia Choir singing the Hallelujah chorus in the Royal Albert Hall in 1974, and to this day I still feel that this performance is one against which all others should be judged. I will also never forget the concert in which only one couple felt duty bound to stand, and with tense stubbornness remain standing, through the entirety of this famous movement – an eternal reminder that life in general should perhaps sometimes be taken less seriously. 

There is a plethora of excellent recordings of this oratorio on the shelves, and if the transparent splendour of original instruments is what you seek then this probably won’t fit the bill. Indeed, almost all of the now ‘mainstream’ recordings are period-instrument authentic, though often following performance practise established by Sir Colin in one way or another. I for one am glad to see it available at budget price, and happy to have it as a staple of my collection.

Dominy Clements

        





 


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