Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Julia Doyle, Allan Clayton, Andrew Foster-Williams|
Annual live performances of Handel's Messiah at St. John's Smith Square with Polyphony and Stephen Layton have become one of the highlights of the musical season. The joyful sincerity and brilliance of the performers has b... more »
Annual live performances of Handel's Messiah at St. John's Smith Square with Polyphony and Stephen Layton have become one of the highlights of the musical season. The joyful sincerity and brilliance of the performers has brought this familiar story to vivid life again and again. Now this wonderful experience is available on disc, recorded in 2008 for a new release that will surely prove to be a strong competitor even in a crowded market. Polyphony is joined by the Britten Sinfonia and a quartet of magnificent young soloists -- all variously acclaimed as the premier Handel singers of the new generation.
A "Messiah" That Ranks With The Very Best Of Them
Thomas H. Moody | Nobleboro, ME United States | 12/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This new (released 2009) performance/recording of Handel's "Messiah" is nothing short of superb. Conductor Stephen Layton has put together Polyhony, Britten Sinfonia, and four outstanding soloists for what is one of the best "Messiah"s out there.
Polyphony is new to me, but what a chorus they are. Their sound is of average size, yet incredibly transparent with great attention to detail and nuance. Their diction is as good as the chorus of Boston Baroque's is in their "Messiah" recording. Polyphony has a wonderful ability to weave in and out of the counterpoint of the choruses leaving the listener taking in all the shapes, lines and contours all at once. Its a thrilling sensation.
The Britten Sinfonia is outstanding as well. Their playing is clean and articulate. They respond well to Layton's vision of "Messiah" and play an integral part of this performance. While listening, you will be aware of their contribution to what is considered a choral work. They demand your attention.
The four soloists, Julia Doyle, Iestyn Davies, Allan Clayton, and Andrew Foster-Williams are simply all in top form. They are effective in their singing, whether it be the more slow cerebral parts of the work or the rapid coloratura parts. They don't miss a beat. Their ornamentation is never obtrusive and is well worked within their respective solos.
As for Stephen Layton....Bravo! What a splendid treat this recording is. Not knowing what to expect upon purchasing this Hyperion recording, I was pleasantly knocked over within minutes into disc one. The question then arose, "will it keep being this good?' The answer was(and is), "yes."
This Christmas season (or at any time) treat yourself to this wonderful new recording of "Messiah." It easily falls into the heap of the top five recorded takes on Handel's warhorse. It's a gem!!
Stephen Layton, Polyphony, Soloists: Handel Messiah: A Fresh
Dan Fee | Berkeley, CA USA | 12/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been a fan of the choral group Polyphony, at least since their exceptional disc of music by USA composer Eric Whitacre. Now, continue that fandom by adding this set of the complete Handel Messiah to my overflowing keeper shelves. Most recently, I've been bowled over by new readings of Messiah from Australia's Cantillation, and from Frieder Bernius and the Stuttgart Chamber Choir. I've already got quite a cache of favorite Messiah sets; yet as if adding two new ones wasn't sufficient, now I'm adding this third set from Polyphony.
The choral singing is simply rich and thrilling, as fresh-voiced as any chorus could wish to sound. HIP manners are much in evidence, though the Britten Sinfonia plays on modern instruments. Tempos are brisk but within mainstream limits. The choral polyphony is clear as a bell. The baroque drama of temperaments is enlivening without being in the least bit fussy or artificial. From first note to last, the musical discipline, energy, involvement, and focus never let up. That goes for the band, too. One of the best things about the instrumental playing throughout is that the band aptly suggests contrasts between baroque recitative and aria, concertino and ripieno, with rock solid musical foundations and forward movement and reflection or commentary always captured by the continuo players. Suddenly, the band is not just accompaniment but integrated with the choral and vocal drama unfolding on the oratorio stage of the ear and the heart and the audience human imagination. Bravo, Polyphony. Bravo, Britten Sinfonia.
All that more or less goes for the four soloists, too. I'm very hard on the soprano, for example. In Messiah, that soprano singer must carry off some of the most familiar and most beloved of Messiah moments without being bored or hackneyed in her singing. Julia Doyle is silvery, clear as an Amelita Galli-Curci bel canto bell, and capable of doing her vocal ornaments in a way that emphasizes some passing new expressive inflection of her very familiar soprano music without impeding phrasing, breathing, or expression. Fantastically fitted, she partners ever so naturally with the continuo flow. This ends up having just a touch of that improvised effect one expects from a really gifted, really jamming jazz trio.
Something as good must be ascribed to the three other soloists. Tenor Allan Clayton opens the drama, and he hardly ever falters after that good start. When it comes to the tenor, I get hard to please when we come to the Part Two recitative and aria, He that dwelleth in heaven. Also, I look for duet partnering in O death where is thy sting? Okay, flying colors. Countertenors do better and worse, challenged by Handel in this oratorio; I usually just hope to come away, thinking, Well that wasn't too bad now, was it? When it comes to He was despised, I nearly always would actually prefer to hear a solid alto voice of the caliber of Janet Baker, Yvonne Minton, Florence Kopleff, Sophie Von Otter, Monica Groop, and similar. The strongest countertenor voice I've heard so far is Andreas Scholl for William Christie's Les Arts Florissants. This set's Iestyn Davies is not quite Andreas Scholl (or David Daniels, for that matter); but his voice is strong enough and he knows it well enough that he matches the other three soloists in apt ornamentation that shines new passing lights on the music and the message, while keeping up with the high levels of musical focus that draw a listener in, into the oratorio's creative and recreative realms. Whatever Davies lacks in lighter-voiced passing is carried so well forward into color and depth and energy by the band that I can keep going with the journey. Bass Andrew Foster-Williams has a solid voice that gives off dark metal glints of a bass bottom, both at the bottom of his voice and through the rest of his vocal range. He can walk in darkness with the better soloists so far captured on disc; and he has that ornamented mastery of style, suited so expertly to what the chorus and the band are already doing so well, in such focus.
Just as this comment needs to wrap up, the oratorio wraps up with an excellent concluding Worthy is the Lamb, followed by the contrapuntal Amen. Consistent with the gripping focus, even this war horse of a finale gives off new shining lights, thanks to the baroque ripieno-concertino contrasts.
Okay then, this was the holiday season when I got three new Messiahs; Stephen Layton and Polyphony was one of the new gifts of the Magi, wandered in from goodness knows what commercial catalog deserts, following goodness knows what bright star. Make no mistake, this set is a bright star in a lighted firmament of existing Handel Messiahs."
Handel with Care
Brian Graham | 02/08/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really appreciated the ability to listen to music samples on the wed-site. It helped me pick this presentation of the Messiah, because it had the best "baroque bounce" quality to the vocals and instrumentals: everything was crisp, energetic, and lilting. I had run into too many versions in the past which were ponderous and garbled. Handel is supposed to evoke snow flakes dancing or quarters bouncing off army bunks, not tidal waves of molasses. I absolutely loved this edition--and the price was right too."