Wonderful execution and extraordinary value
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 04/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Andrew Parrott's recordings of Handel's "Messiah" and "Israel in Egypt" are reintroduced in this budget box that has so much going for it that no version extant can really compare in terms of musical value, execution of the score and dollar value. At a list price of $17 -- and usually available for less than that -- this four-disk set presents a tremendous value to lovers of this music.
Parrott's rendition of the less often recorded "Isreal in Egypt" Passover story is still considered by most critics to sit at or near the pinnacle with Gardiner's two versions. I have owned the second Gardiner recording along with those lead by Christophers, Cleobury and Preston and none exceeds the singing and musical performance of this one.
His "Messiah" is every bit its counterpart and ranks ahead of other versions I've owned in recent years including the beautifully sung but controversial recording of Marriner, Academy & Chorus of St. Martin-in-the-Fields with Elly Ameling, Anna Reynolds, Philip Langridge, Gwynne Howell; the energetic period performance on DG with Pinnock leading the English Concert & Choir, Arleen Auger, Anne Sofie von Otter, Michael Chance, Howard Crook & John Tomlinson; and the noisy old version by Beecham that big band lovers still cling to.
Parrott's recordings include some of the best early music singers in Europe including the clarion voice of Emma Kirkby, Nancy Argenta, tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson and bass David Thomas. The inclusion of parts for countertenor James Bowman to sing bass arias in "Messiah" is more controversial but does little to diminish the positive overall effect.
What I enjoy most about these performances is that, even though they are period performances, Parrott romanticizes the music and allows his singers to use vibrato. A complete absence of rapid fire speeds in the two performances allows the music to bloom and breathe. Indeed, his "Hallelujah" chorus in "Messiah" in a massive performance more befitting the old days of 200 member choirs than the lean and mean approach by most pedantics!
Parrott's approach remians authentic by including the original score of "Israel in Egypt" including the first part "Lamentation of the Isrealties for the Death of Joseph". Listeners that, like me, do not particularly care for this section can skip ahead to track 14 of disk 3 and begin at the more conventional "Exodus" section. In either case the performance is a stunning winner.
It's not often I come across a CD where I don't find something objectionable but this set is about as good as it gets. The performances both rank in the top drawer of currently available CDs. While the recordings, made in 1989 and 1990, are not the quality of today's best digital remakes and may take a little treble taming at the beginning of "Isreal: Exodus", they are more than adequate.
The one noticeable downside is the lack of a vocal score and only skimpy notes given in a couple languages. Complete track listings are included, however, and the English is so good throughout this set that you won't need the score to understand what's going on, whether you're listening to it at home, at work or in the car.
With extremely lucid direction by Parrott and the engineers, matched with some of the best singing I've heard in these scores, this is a set you can listen to repeatedly. I can't imagine another set that is better than this one, especially for $17 or less."
Leila | SPAIN | 09/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I own the two oratorios separately. I bought first Messiah because I needed a reference recording for our choir performance on Christmas 2000, and my then choir director recommended the Tavener Choir and Players. I followed his suggestion and I must say that to this day I haven't regretted it. It's very balanced in tempi, never too quick neither too slow as other recordings I have heard like the Gardiner or Sawallisch ones. Every time we schedule Messiah for a concert I keep coming back to it to get into the proper mood for singing. The cast of singers is really excellent - there is a counter-tenor sharing the mezzo/alto role with a mezzo (which is quite unusual but refreshing anyway) as well as two soprans sharing role too, which usually other recordings don't have. But everyone of them is magnificent, though I tend to have a partiality towards the bass, David Thomas, specially regarding the arias "The trumpet shall sound" and "Why do the nations". Such a booming voice, and such a homogeneous sound in all of his fach.
Having such good opinion of the ensemble, I went for the Israel in Egypt, which was a discovery. Some of the singers are the same
as in the Messiah cast, and includes Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Nancy Argenta...which are an added plus. Unfortunately, there is no mezzo/alto in this recording but a counter-tenor...sigh... There are two soprans and two basses sharing roles as well. Tenor and alto are just one singer each. I have been said that it is quite rare to find a whole recording of this score, since its excerpts are usually used to "make up" for a complete recording together with other pieces by Handel. The work in itself is very much like Handel, full of sensitivity and the exact amount of sadness - "The ways of Zion do mourn" makes my hairs stand on end, thrills me so! - and weird humor, like when telling about the 7 plagues Yahwe send to Egypt in order to make the Pharaoh free the Israelites... "Their land brought forth frogs" starts with the violins sounding like leaping frogs! And I have named just a few of the pieces. It is really an adquisition worth your money."
A Messiah to satisfy a fussy listener
Carolyn Field | Melbourne, Australia | 12/31/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a chorister who has sung Handel's Messiah numerous times, I have come to love this work, and have become very fussy about the way I need it to sound in order to enjoy listening to it.
This recording was recommended to me by a friend who is also an expert on Handel, after I gave him my list of criteria:
* The alto section in the chorus must be female. I know that in Handel's day the alto line was most probably sung by counter-tenors/male altos, but there is an edge to the male alto sound that I just don't like, so no male altos for me!
* The pace of the piece mustn't drag. I have another recording, and when I listen to it, am always feeling like I need to wind them up to get on with it... slow and ponderous... this recording has an appropriate spring in its step, which I appreciate.
* A light and mellifluous tenor soloist, so that my favourite moment, the transition from the hard, angry, cynical tones of "He trusted in God.." to the heart-wrenching purity of the tenor solo in "Thy rebuke..." is just a perfectly melting moment. The tenor in this recording comes close to my ideal, although is still a little on the heavy side.
All in all, I found this recording very satisfying, and I love to sing along or just listen and drink it all in. The fact that the box set also includes "Israel in Egypt" is a bonus, and I look forward to becoming familiar with that work too.