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American Record Guide: (03/2021) 
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Reviewer: William J. Gatens

There is no such thing as a perfect recording of Messiah. I doubt that any two critics could agree on what that would be like. Most period- instrument recordings simply annoy me. One of the few that does not is the 1988 recording by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert (DG). I like his dignified pacing and the refinement of the playing and singing. Even so, there are things that could have been better, and I have spoken with colleagues who don’t much care for that recording. The trouble is that so many conductors, when faced with such a familiar and often-recorded work, seem to feel obliged to leave their individual mark so as to stand out from the crowd. This may be unfair to many interpreters, but I do not think it my imagination that many eccentricities are foisted on this masterwork that would not be if it were less well-known. Here again, I like Pinnock because he plays it down the middle. The purpose of this preamble is to give some context to my judgement that the present recording contains much to recommend it.


The singers and players are first rate. Justin Doyle presides over some remarkably crisp and clean playing and singing. He favors brisk tempos, sometimes faster than I would like, but rarely to the point of eccentricity. Of course, his singers and players are undaunted by such tempos. ‘For Unto Us a Child Is Born’, for example, is taken very quickly, but it comes across as buoyant and jovial, not driven. The four solo singers leave nothing to be desired in terms of vocal technique and poise. I was quite taken with the mysterious quality bass Roderick Williams imparts to ‘For Behold’. Without wishing to slight the others, I was especially impressed with countertenor Tim Mead. The male alto voice is an acquired taste, but Mead’s tone is solid and commanding and unlikely to sound exotic to listeners more accustomed to contraltos. All four soloists freely ornament their lines, especially on repeats. Not all of the ornamentation is equally effective or convincing. Sometimes I think they just enjoy singing notes that are not on the page. For me the worst instance is the da capo of ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’, where Williams’s elaborations sound contrived and too busy.


The recorded sound is remarkably clear. In my reviews I often complain that the solo voices are overbalanced. Here the opposite is the case; the soloists sound artificially prominent. There has to be a happy medium. The choir of 34 voices has good presence but sounds distant compared with the soloists and wrapped in an acoustical cloud. Instead of conventional program notes, the booklet contains a highly amusing imaginary conversation between Handel and his librettist Charles Jennens written by Roman Hinke. He exhibits the cantankerous personalities of both gentlemen, and manages to get in a good deal of historical information along the way. Deliberately anachronistic turns of phrase liven the prose, and the subject matter is not limited to the lifetimes of the two speakers. For example, Handel is permitted to deplore the gigantism of the Victorian Handel Festivals at the Crystal Palace, where Messiah would be presented by thousands of singers and players. This may not be the Messiah recording all the world has been waiting for, but one could do a whole lot worse.

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