Other reviewers have mentioned the conductor, Stephen Layton's occasional variations from Handel's original score; but to my mind these enhance, rather than diminish the music by adding to the drama and achieving a delightful freshness in the performance. The result links the oratorio to Handel's extensive operatic output, allowing one to appreciate how grounded this music is in the composer's earlier successes in the theatre.
The artists here represent some of the very best performers in what is currently a British musical scene riding high in international opinion. The Britten Sinfonia and the choir, Polyphony, have won prestigious awards, as has Stephen Layton; and whilst all four soloists sing beautifully, the soprano, Julia Doyle, conveys an innocent delight, great dexterity and sublime tonal purity such that I have rarely encountered before. Handel delays the soprano's entrance until after the Pastoral Symphony, some two-thirds of the way through Part I - but when it happens, what wonder, what a sense of mystery and then rejoicing she brings to us all!
This is the third or fourth recording of The Messiah I have bought, most of them classic versions in their day: but I have absolutely no doubts that this reigns supreme. Go out and buy it, because it might just change your life.