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Handel's Messiah (The Original Manuscript)
George Frederic Handel, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Handel's Messiah (The Original Manuscript)
Genres: Special Interest, Pop, Classical
You would think that everyone in the world owned a copy of Messiah by now, and that there would certainly be no need to record new ones very year. Wrong! Here's DG's 1997 entry, and it's a fine one too. The only reservatio...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: George Frederic Handel, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Title: Handel's Messiah (The Original Manuscript)
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 1
Label: Madacy Records
Release Date: 8/19/1997
Genres: Special Interest, Pop, Classical
Styles: Holiday & Wedding, Easy Listening
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPCs: 056775168025, 056775168025

You would think that everyone in the world owned a copy of Messiah by now, and that there would certainly be no need to record new ones very year. Wrong! Here's DG's 1997 entry, and it's a fine one too. The only reservation is the recorded sound, which seems to be somewhat congested at the climaxes, as though the chorus and orchestra were recorded in differing acoustic spaces. Otherwise, this is as fine an "authentic" performance as we're likely to get. --David Hurwitz

CD Reviews

A top drawer version for authenticists and fans of same
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 12/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"People's preferences about Handel's Messiah are typically built on whether or not they enjoy the version being put forth. Paul McCreesh's performance, from the end of the last century, is the Foundling Hopsital performing version Handel may have known in his day. It substitutes certain women's voices -- and a countertenor in other recordings -- for certain arias a bass sings in traditional performances such as those led by Marriner and Colin Davis.

I think this is a five-star performance for fans of the authenticity movement even though I have a few quibbles -- the tenor overinterprets my favorite aria, "Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye My People", and one of the sopranoes, I don't know which one, has an uncontrollabe vibrato in "He Shall Feed His Flock". In addition, the "Hallelujah" chorus hardly bursts forth from a big band orchestra to tumultuous singing by a 200-member choir; that's what you get in an authentic reading using a choir of 45 or less.

These few quibbles aside, I think this is an outstanding performance that gets a big boost from the passion and somewhat eccentric leadership of Paul McCreesh, whose Mozart C Minor Mass, released last year, had all the same qualities as this performance of Messiah. McCreesh clearly is not a pasty-faced authenticist trying to minimize everything or deliver the goods in as chaste an aural environment as possible, something I often find tangbile in Gardiner's readings of great vocal scores.

On the contrary, McCreesh leads the combined forces as if this is indeed a passion. He uses speeds both slower (Glory to God in the Highest) and faster than the norm (Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs) to express his vision. This is in keeping with the practice I've known among choral directors that have told the singers to be louder and quieter than the score markings recommend. This leads to an end product that, while not extreme, transcends the ordinary.

Anyone looking for an ordinary performance won't like this one. While traditionalists may not enjoy the goings on and long for the days of Beecham, no argument can be made this is a poorly performed or badly sung version. Quite the contrary; the singing is as spectacular as I've ever heard in Messiah. For an example, listen to exposition of Handelian counterpoint in "Lift Up Your Gates".

Fans of the version you sang in high school won't like the tempi selected throughout this performance, either. Still, McCreesh and his singers are outstanding throughout and everything is delivered in a wonderfully clear recording that lacks resonance and aura. I don't think this is because it was miked closely; I think it is the relative purtiy of approach one gets from a relatively small band and choir.

DG has reissued this in super audio sound; I haven't heard that one. I'd say the stereo is very good in terms of clarity and delivery. You can understand everything everyone sings and it's delivered in crystal clear acoustics. The recording, in stereo, is not warm and friedly, however, and hall ambience does not exist. Yet the signing is the important thing and that's done better here than in other period performances I've heard led by Parrott and Pinnock. I don't know if this is the best period recording available of Messiah but it's a good one nonetheless."
So Many Messiahs, So Little Time
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 10/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Yes, the Hogwood, Pinnock, Christie, and even Parrott Messiahs all have their merits, usually in the virtuosity of one or another of the soloists. Likewise, every performance of the Messiah has moments when the conductor falls asleep or the brass players are too absorbed in their crossword puzzles to drain their spit valves in time. There is no definitive Messiah.

The five soloists on the recording are easily separated into the sheep and the goats. (Have you ever spent any time with sheep or goats? Me, I find the goats far better company.) Bass Neal Davies and tenor Charles Daniels are stellar in every way - beautiful tone, agile dodging through the sixteenth note thickets, bang-on intonation, and articulate expression. Soprano Susan Gritton has the agility and the intonation, but lacks a certain edge of expressive intensity. Bernarda Fink and Dorothea Roeschman, to my ears, sing quite well in their ways but belong in a different ensemble in vocal style.

The big pluses in this performance are the chorus and the orchestra, and to my taste those are the most telling elements of the Messiah. Both chorus and orchestra are precise and crystal clear in phrasing and articulation. One can actually understand the words without knowing them by heart! One can hear the orchestral inner voices and savor the cadential chords. The original instruments at A415 are far sweeter and yet crisper than the assault weapons of a modern orchestra. It's like biting into a perfect frost-kissed Fuji apple after eating stale apple pie at Joe the Plumber's Diner. The tempos are often faster than in other performances, but since the singers have no trouble keeping up with their flurries of sixteenths, faster tempos are better, in that the phrasing of the music is more cogent. The Messiah is as much an athletic event as an act of cultural piety.

Conductor Paul McCreesh is, for me, "often a bridesmaid, never a bride." That is, I usually find much to admire in his performances, but I just as usually find others that I like even more. This time, at least for the winter of 2008, he gets to be the bride. But then, with the Messiah, there's always a hint of polygamy..."
Maybe my favorite Messiah
Sanpete | in Utah | 02/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's hard to have one favorite for a work with so many diverse challenges and rewards; it's far too big for any one performance. But though I have a dozen or so recordings, this is the Messiah I've had the highest joys-to-frustrations ratio with for the last few years.

Perhaps its strongest point, to my ears, is the technical assurance of the soloists, at no cost to their musicality. The thing that has jarred me most often from my enjoyment of this work is soloists just not quite hitting notes or articulating them cleanly, even with baroque specialists in other well regarded period performances, such as Hogwood and Pinnock. ("I shall shake" may as well be "I shall slide" in most recordings.) I agree with a previous reviewer who observes that McCreesh benefits from the maturity of period performance practices, which made great advances even in the decade leading up to this recording. The soloists here do amazingly well.

As another reviewer pointed out, the chorus is "top-heavy," i.e. biased toward the sopranos, who sound appropriately angelic. I would have been happy to hear more strength and depth in the bass. It may be in part a technical artifact of the recording, or it could be an artistic choice. (Maybe we need to import some Russian basses! But could they sing Handel?) Like the soloists, the chorus is astonishingly technically secure, very musical, and never sounds like it's panting.

The orchestra's playing is very well shaped, exceptionally crisp and nimble but expressively modulated. Indeed, that applies to the singing as well, each note and line lovingly contoured. My only real reservation on the instrumental side, which I notice again at each listening, is that the horn on "The Trumpet Shall Sound" seems too pastoral, too relaxed, too smooth, too legato, rather than sharing the appropriately urgent forcefulness of the vocal soloist. Beautiful but not quite fitting, for my view of what the piece is about.

I enjoy the bracing rhythmic spring of many of the pieces, not breathless or over-punched but appropriately lively. On the other extreme, I understand the complaint I see here about the very slow "He Was Despised," but I find it highly effective. It draws me into the words in a way more typically delivered performances don't, without seeming overly mannered to me. The singing is beautiful. (There are reasons to think the piece was originally intended to be a showpiece for a favorite soloist who had very public reasons to identify with the lyrics.)

Similarly, though I see the cause, I disagree with the reviewer who finds "Comfort Ye" over-interpreted. Again, it works very well for me. I see less cause for the same reviewer's feeling that the soprano singing "He Shall Feed His Flock" has an "uncontrollable" vibrato. To me it sounds tight and finely controlled, beautiful. Some have complained of the contralto's vibrato, which is more pronounced (as in "O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings"), but I think the complaints are overblown. Ms. Fink manages it pretty well. Whether it's "authentic" is a matter of some controversy but of relatively little weight in comparison to other points, I think, such as how well she hits the notes and fits the overall style, which she does very well. She does seem a bit underpowered to me, but only a bit.

This performance leans slightly towards the theatrical, operatic side of the work, which McCreesh calls attention to in his notes. That doesn't make it less devotional, only less staid. I can't say I think every piece hits the sweet spot as to tempo and style. Some do strike me as too light, in particular, though never without some benefits from it. Even with the expressiveness throughout, and great feeling in some parts, I still occasionally long for a fuller measure of passion or forcefulness. I'm not sure there is a single sweet spot for many of the pieces, though, and I'm glad to hear and enjoy the choices made here as well as in other performances that bring out other sides of this great music."