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Handel - Messiah / Nelson, Kirkby, Watkinson, Elliott, Thomas, AAM, Hogwood
George Frideric Handel, Christopher Hogwood, Academy of Ancient Music
Handel - Messiah / Nelson, Kirkby, Watkinson, Elliott, Thomas, AAM, Hogwood
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #2

This is the Messiah that started it all--the first period instrument performance recorded with a choir of men and boys. It introduced music lovers the world over to Christopher Hogwood, Emma Kirkby, and a whole host of per...  more »

      
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Amazon.com essential recording
This is the Messiah that started it all--the first period instrument performance recorded with a choir of men and boys. It introduced music lovers the world over to Christopher Hogwood, Emma Kirkby, and a whole host of performers who have since become ubiquitous as the "English Early Music Mafia," appearing as they do under zillions of different ensemble names on a variety of labels. Hogwood's performance still holds its own, however, as one of the finest and freshest available. A first-rate effort. --David Hurwitz

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CD Reviews

Best all round version - great soloists.
songbear | Ashburn, VA United States | 06/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"On many versions of Messiah available on CD, the choir is wonderful but the soloists' performances seem lacking. Either the diction is poor, they can't seem to handle the demands of the long runs this music calls for, or they approach the music the same as they would a Wagnerian Opera. Not the case here. Each solo is sung with a perfect combination of technical accuracy and emotion that will knock your socks off. David Thomas is simply stunning. You won't be skipping over any solos on this album, and the chorus and orchestra are perfect. Still as fresh as the day it was released. The standard by which other versions will be compared."
A superb recording re-creating a specific performance of 175
Craig Matteson | Ann Arbor, MI | 11/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It surprises many people to learn that there is no definitive version of Handel's "Messiah". Everyone knows the version they heard growing up, or the version they sang when they were younger. However, the scholar trying to put together an historically informed performance of this most important work is faced with many choices and even more questions. Do you use the score he wrote in 1741 but never performed, or the adaptations he made for the Dublin premier. Or maybe you want the version used for the London premier in 1743. If you do, you also have to reconcile that with the reality that Handel later abandoned these additions and changes. While the work settled into a more less standard form in the 1750s, Handel still made changes based upon the singers and players available. These are just the beginnings of the alternatives the scholar has to consider.

This performance attempts to recreate a specific performance of the work by Handel in the 5 April and repeated on 15 May in 1754. The wonderful notes included with this recording fully explain what this choice means and provides insight into each of the pieces as well as the text in German and French as well as English.

This recording was done in 1980 and the notes say it is the first complete historically informed recording. This was a time of great experimentation and thought about early music, and especially the Baroque. We did a performance of the complete Messiah here in Ann Arbor in December of 1980 that too on a great number of these same issues. We also were fortunate to have Emma Kirkby sing here (she was absolutely wonderful) as well as other fine soloists. We did a recording of part of the work and was well regarded in its time. This recording also makes interesting choices about the composition of the chorus and the vocal style of the soloists.

The chorus is the Choir of Christ Church Oxford and uses mostly boy trebles and altos and young men for the tenors and basses. They sing with great clarity and while they may not provide the massive sound some might wish for, I found the straight voices quite wonderful in the very high registers where voices with vibrato might smear or the timbre might become a bit of a shriek. This is the composition of the choir Handel used for this performance, so it is authentic. However, it is also not the only kind of choir he used in the performances of this work. I enjoyed this sound very much. They also pull off quite powerful effects in the "Hallelujah Chorus" and "Worthy is the Lamb".

The soloists also use a much different vocal production style than you might expect. Remember, Verdi was still more than a century in the future. The big brilliant voices we expect today were not the rule and may not have been invented yet. This smaller voice is most pronounced in the tenor voice of Paul Elliott. He certainly gets all the notes and is very expressive, but his is not the brilliant voice we usually associate with "Ev'ry Valley". Judith Nelson and Emma Kirkby share the duties of the expanded Soprano role in this piece and both are very fine. I admit my personal bias towards Kirkby. Carolyn Watkinson is superb as the alto, and David Thomas is just terrific as the bass and does "The Trumpet Shall Sound" to a turn.

The orchestra is brilliant, tight, and a constant delight in this piece. Just to hear them in all their varied approaches to the texts of these pieces is worth the hearing of this disk.
Now, this will likely not be the "Messiah" you grew up with nor what you expect when you hear this work. I urge you to expand your palette. There is no "right" way to play a work. Yes, there are lots of wrong ways, but this is not one of those. One of the problems listeners have is getting too settled on the recording of the work they happen to have. This is always a mistake. No single approach is enough for any fine work let alone one of the cultural and artistic magnitude of "Messiah".

The other source of mistaken fixation is the version you grew up with or heard as an impressionable youth. Again, I urge you to re-open your approach to musical taste and sample this work and see if you can appreciate all the fineness this recording has to offer.

If you do, you will not only be better off because your ability to appreciate music will have expanded, but you will take fresh ears back to your favorite version and hear in it new delights and be doubly rewarded."
Heavenly
songbear | 11/23/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In all my years of listening to classical music, I cannot recall coming across a more complete recording. Maestro Hogwood, along with all the performers on this recording, has given the world the most wonderful of interpretations of the "Grand Master" of all choral music. From the authentic instrumentation to the boys of the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, I actually felt like I had travelled back in time to April 5th, in the year 1754 at the Covent Garden Theatre, in London, for its inaugural peformance. If you are looking for sheer beauty and the intellect of an original score from 250 years ago, this is the one recording you must have...What an appropriate rememberance for its subject - Our Lord and Savior!"