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Handel: Messiah Box set


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Product details

  • Orchestra: Vienna State Opera Orchestra
  • Conductor: Hermann Scherchen
  • Composer: Georg Friederic Handel
  • Audio CD (18 Nov. 2001)
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Westminster Legacy
  • ASIN: B00005RIH2
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 613,545 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By pclaudel on 18 Dec. 2010
Format: Audio CD
This reviewer has owned and listened to this performance for fifty years. Why it is almost always compared unfavorably with Scherchen's earlier mono recording is a mystery. The chorus--perhaps because it is Austrian rather than English and so lacked a history of performing the work--bridles far less at the conductor's manifold idiosyncrasies than does its London counterpart. In addition, some critics have exaggerated the extent to which one marks the choristers' German accent (critical exaggeration should surprise no one, since exaggeration of one sort or another is a hallmark of this performance). Indeed, most of the time no inappropriate accent can be heard, and even at worst it is never so bad as to arouse complaint, certainly not when one thinks of the American accents that have spoilt a great many Messiah accounts from the other side of the Atlantic. On the strongly plus side, the Vienna chorus, small and professional, sings with fully supported tone and astonishing virtuosity. Not even the Sixteen or the Dunedin Consort articulates the runs in "And he shall purify" with fewer aspirates. (Incidentally, even though this recording of Messiah runs 195 minutes--it is thus fully an hour longer than a number of lickety-split modern accounts--"And he shall purify" is one of several choruses that Scherchen conducts as fast as or faster than anyone else.)

It is not the chorus alone, however, that makes this performance arguably superior to Scherchen's previous one. Despite the fact that certain passages that should have been given retakes weren't--the inevitable budget and time constraints!
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By Durand Jérôme on 27 Dec. 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
merci
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Odd, individual, and gripping--then and now 10 Jan. 2009
By pclaudel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Like Mr. Murphy and "a Listener," this reviewer has owned and listened to this performance for fifty years. Why it is almost always compared unfavorably with Scherchen's earlier mono recording is a mystery. As Johannes Climacus has mentioned in his insightful review, the chorus here (perhaps because it is Austrian rather than English) bridles far less at the conductor's manifold idiosyncrasies than does its London counterpart. In addition, the extent to which one marks the choristers' German accent has been exaggerated (critical exaggeration should surprise no one, since exaggeration of one sort or another is a hallmark of this performance). Indeed, most of the time no inappropriate accent is present, and even at worst it is not bad enough to merit complaint, certainly in comparison with the American accents that have spoilt a great many Messiah accounts from this side of the Atlantic. On the strongly plus side, the Vienna chorus, small and professional, sings with fully supported tone and astonishing virtuosity. Not even the Sixteen or the Dunedin Consort articulates the runs in "And he shall purify" with fewer aspirates. (Even though this account of Messiah runs 195 minutes--it is thus fully an hour longer than a number of lickety-split modern accounts--this chorus is one of several that Scherchen conducts as fast as or faster than anyone else.)

It is not only the chorus, however, that makes this performance arguably superior to Scherchen's mono London performance. Despite the fact that certain passages that should have been given retakes weren't--evidently there were budget and time constraints (plus ça change!)--the Vienna instrumentalists are never less than the equal of the Londoners and often their superior (the solo trumpet and solo violin are especially fine). As Climacus writes, too, the interpretation has a more settled feel overall. Many "extreme" tempos remain, however; for example, the Amen is fully two minutes slower than before (roughly 8.5 minutes). If one can unlearn the listening habits of the past forty years--no easy matter, of course--the experience of Scherchen's Amen chorus may spoil one for all others. (All praise to the Dunedin performance, by the way, whose Amen chorus rivals this one in expressive depth while taking half the time [Messiah - Dublin Version 1742].)

The few adverse remarks about Simoneau's performance are baffling. He stands at the windswept summit of Messiah tenors. None can match him for beauty of voice, control of breath, musicianship, musicality, subtlety, and expressive range. Though his name is French, Simoneau grew up in a bilingual Canadian household and spoke English without a trace of an accent (he never even sounded especially Canadian). All of his vowels are truly native (no French nasality), and his consonants are pronounced in the English (i.e., rather than American) fashion appropriate to this repertory. To hear truly accented singing in Messiah, one need only go to the two Harnoncourt performances (though only the second has been widely praised, both are admirable). The unfortunate Marjana Lipovsek (in the first; Handel: Messiah) and the splendid Christine Schäfer (in the second; Handel: Messiah [Hybrid SACD]) would make a resuscitated Handel, who to the day of his death spoke heavily German-accented English, feel right at home.

Pierrette Alarie's mispronunciation of "justifieth" as "jus-ti-fee-eth" has been widely remarked over the years. As this linguistic lapse is her only sin, she deserves to be spared stoning. Her performance is otherwise wonderful; only Ameling, Felicity Palmer, Kirkby, and one or two other sopranos are her peers. The air "If God be for us," wherein she mispronounces the word, embodies a good example of her artistry. At a duration of ten minutes (a typical timing is 4.5 minutes), Scherchen--seeking to mine the profundity of the biblical text--sets a tempo that makes almost unmeetable demands upon the breath control and interpretative resources of the singer. This being the last air in the oratorio, Scherchen treats it as the capstone of the individual's response to the Gospel (the following choruses, culminating in the grandest of all Amens, are the community's response). Alarie's singing--ethereal but sustained, responsive to text and music but not vulgarly overstated--superbly realizes Scherchen's vision of Handel's score.

The American Nan Merriman was a prominent singer in her day; indeed, Toscanini was one of her admirers. Like Ferrier's or Forrester's, Merriman's voice had the true contralto weight and color, though her sound lacked the sheer beauty of Ferrier's and the smile, like a shaft of sunlight illuminating a landscape, that that lady could bring to her tone. Merriman is surprisingly brilliant in the divisions of "For he is like a refiner's fire" and dignified and consolatory in "He was despised." She may lack the ultimate distinction of Baker, Watts, Reynolds, von Otter, and Esswood, but she need not hang her head even in their company. The prominent vibrato that is a distinguishing characteristic of her voice will strike some present-day listeners as jarring, however. Forewarned is forearmed.

Richard Standen, the bass, also took part in the earlier Scherchen performance and unquestionably sang much better there. Here he is often a trial, but even so, the absence of a wobble in his dry, hollow sound is some compensation. As an interpreter, Standen is no Shirley-Quirk, but very few basses are (certainly not the initially stunning but soon tiresome Gerald Finley).

This Messiah is not something for everyday listening--its sheer interpretative oddness makes such words as "idiosyncratic" and "eccentric" seem almost like euphemisms--and no one under the age of fifty who finds it incomprehensible or unbearable should be chided. It is the product of another world, another time; even when it was new, it was caviar to the general. So it is still.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An Intimate *Messiah* 26 Sept. 2007
By Johannes Climacus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Herman Scherchen's recorded legacy has not fared well in the CD era, in part because the various corporations that have owned the master tapes have not been motivated to release performances by a conductor who has earned a reputation for idiosyncracy.

Eccentric though his two recordings of *Messiah* (1954 and 1959) may be, both show flashes of interpretive genius and manifold anticipations of period performance practice. The earlier, monaural, version may feature more idiomatic singing (an all-English lineup of soloists and a London-based choir) and a more exhilarating sense of occasion (it was the very first version to respect Handel's original scoring and to favor scaled-down forces); but the later version also has its virtues. Of course, one has to be willing to accept the fact of a Viennese choir that has some trouble with English diction, and two soloists who sing with pronounced French accents (Alarie's "It is God that jus-ti-fee-ith" is an hilarious example). On the other hand, there is some evidence that Scherchen's interpretation had "settled" somewhat in the interval since 1954. Tempos are less extreme, particularly at the fast end of the spectrum, and the pointing of orchestral detail seems less fussy the second time around (no alternating, as before, between concertino and ripieno ensembles where it is not asked for by the composer).

Despite an occasional mauling of the English language, I would contend that the soloists are better in the stereo version. Simoneau is beyond praise for his mellifluous, yet restrained, lyricism. Alarie evokes a sense of numinous rapture with her soft, almost whispered delivery of her arias. Her rendition of "If God be for us" never fails to cause a shiver, at least in this listener. Standen is one of the more sensitive among the stiff-upper-lip British baritones of his generation; and Nan Merriman sings with passionate involvement throughout (and, to be sure, with a pronounced vibrato that may be off-putting to some listeners).

But it is Scherchen who makes this interpretation special. Time and again, he reveals the intimacy and prayerfulness of a score which can, in lesser hands, seem uncomfortably triumphalistic. The English choir in the monaural version doesn't sound quite as comfortable with this radically different conception of the work than their Viennese counterparts--perhaps because in 1954 the Victorian choir-festival tradition still lingered in the English air. In Vienna, the choir is willing to sing really softly without loss of tension; even through the long haul of the impossibly slow rendition of the concluding "Amen" chorus.

To the best of my knowledge, the 1954 version has been reissued twice during the CD era: the first time on an obscure British label (PRT, I believe it was called) and more recently on the sonically-challenged Archipel label. Hopefully, Tahra--which has been fitfully reissuing Scherchen's Westminster recordings in pretty good remasterings--will eventually get around to either or both *Messiahs*. But since the stereo version is still readily available from DG, it can be strongly endorsed. For it enables us to hear Scherchen's mature conception of this work: warts, eccentricities and all, it is an interpretation that reflects both his unconventionality and his genius.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Superior "Messiah" 5 Dec. 2006
By A Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is a fine performance that is well worth having; Scherchen was a very interesting conductor. However, I agree with Mr. Sherman that it is not as good as the original 1954 mono recording of the "Dublin" version. I bought both the '54 and '57 recordings when they came out, and have other recordings of "Messiah". The 1954 Scherchen recording is the one I go back to. The sound quality is still wonderful. With mono like that I don't need stereo, just as with the early '50s Mercury Olympian Series recordings. Someone should certainly reissue it. It has historic as well as artistic value.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Way It Should be Played 7 Feb. 2003
By William A. Brock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Many years ago I bought some used records which included this recording. Having heard the Messiah many time before I was a little taken back by this version, as parts of it seemed to be off speed or tempo. What I found out later was that this recording was based upon the original score as written by Handel and not the more modern version performed by most orchestras and choirs today. The funny thing was, the more I played these records the more I liked them compared to the newer version. When the records wore out, I search the Internet and to my surprise it had been reissued on CD. I was truly elated! This verison takes a little getting use to because of the tempo, but if you play it a little loud, like you are in front of the orchestra, it is truly wonderful. The piece is so nice it is hard to do other things while it is playing. I find it so interesting that some pieces of music are so moving that one really transcends the music, you don't hear it you just experience it. This CD is as close to that feeling as one can get listening to recorded music.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Finally on CD!! 19 May 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Although I have no critical musical training beyond years of listening to and enjoying music, I particularly enjoy the baroque. This CD remastering of the old Westminster recording exceeds all my expectations for this work. The Scherchen interpretation has always been the standard by which I have judged other performances. As I listen now, it continues to be my Gold Standard. Thank you Westminster!
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