on 10 December 2004
This is a CD version of an 80's recording which is so good I've stuck with it rather than going for a newer one. The LSO chorus are excellent, light-footed and accurate; Colin Davis takes them through some of the numbers at high speed but they make it sound easy (it isn't, as anyone who's sung Messiah will know). Helen Watts is a beautiful and moving alto soloist and John Shirley-Quirk is also outstanding.
on 30 October 2007
Don't be put off by the fact that the original recording was made in the 1980s. It's been re-engineered and is simply top notch! This is by far the best recording I've ever come across. The fact that it's on a Phillips label doesn't hurt either. The orchestra (LSO)is just right--not too heavy, not too light, and the interpretations are superb. Can't go wrong with the label, the orchestra, or the composer.
on 21 October 2008
This is more like it. I bought the Harry Christopher/Sixteen version and was left unmoved by it. This however, was sublime - fantastic soloists, an orchestra and chorus that sounded as if they meant it, a wonderful range of emotion beautifully realised. To me this is what a performance of the Messiah should sound like. The other reviewers got this one spot-on. I can only 'rejoice greatly' for such a recording.
on 1 June 2008
In the same way that Naxos' New College Oxford recording of "Messiah" is an example of the English Cathedral tradition, this recording is a great sample of the choral society tradition. Although the recording includes some huge names from the world of classical music, I was not over-enthralled by the recording as a whole. The age of the recording (1966) is made obvious in the quality of sound, and the entire ensemble is too big to hear the words properly, and of course this is reflected in the acoustic. The presentation is acceptable, but the sleeve notes are inadequate and the text is not provided. However, what this recording does have is drama and vigour in abundance.
The chorus sing very accurately (particularly the tenors), with good intonation and, for a choral society, with relatively clear diction. The orchestra are accurate enough, but tend to go for the loud "wow" factor, instead of focussing on the more intimate details of the score. Such huge choral and orchestral forces do not allow for sufficient clarity in parts, particularly in the lower registers.
However, the greatest fault with this recording is the soloists. The opening tenor solo "Comfort ye" is attacked by John Wakefield, with an inappropriately dominating vibrato. The Soprano, Heather Harper, simply belts out "I know that my redeemer liveth", particularly in the higher register, with a style more akin to Puccini than Handel. Helen Watts gives an assured and heart-felt performance of "But who may abide", and she has a real strength in her lower register, but, again, the style is too grand and operatic for the subtle details and intricate workings of the score. Perhaps the best soloist is John Shirley-Quirk, who generally gives a more appropriately restrained performance, but without losing the rich sonority of his voice, or the rhythmic vitality in the famous "shakes".
In many ways whichever Messiah recording one buys rests on what one is looking for. If you would like to hear a performance in the true choral society tradition - like one might hear every year in Huddersfield - then look no further, as this is the finest recording in that tradition. But if you would prefer a recording in the Cathedral tradition, look for Naxos' New College Oxford recording - a superbly accurate and precise recording with the Academy of Ancient Music, outstanding soloists, perfect acoustic, and a truly authentic Baroque performance (note, however, that this recording varies slightly from the score we know so well, as it is the composer's 1751 edition, although I found it to be even more enjoyable!)
on 10 January 2011
What joy this gave me over the Christmas period. Had to play it when my wife was out though, since it is not her taste. Many people cannot seem to enjoy the piece as a whole and see the less glorious passages as boring and laborious but these serve as a great introduction and contrast to the sublime passages. For me it is utterly amazing to purchase and enjoy Handel's Messiah in such great quality sound at such a low cost. This production shows so clearly how much Handel understood of the glory of the subject matter he was dealing with. Absolutely marvellous!
on 27 September 2010
I bought this because it was cheap. Overall, I got what I paid for.
I confess I like the more recent, smaller ensemble versions of "Messiah", my particular favourite being the Pinnock/English Concert version. For an older recording, I've always liked the Mackerras/ECO recording, which was a sort of half-way house (modern instruments, but smaller ensemble and counter-tenor (memorably Paul Esswood)) between Pinnock and this recording .
Generally, this was very well played and sung. However, I found some of the tempi much too slow and elephantine (such as that of the opening Overture), but this was the traditional approach. The soloists are generally very good, handling the Handel repeating "Sha-hay-hay-hay-hay-hay-hay" enunciations well, without slurring them into a continuous moan, as can happen. The "Rejoice greatly" is the 4/4 version, and is, I think, the best of that version I've heard. The orchestra is first-class.
This is not a version to which I would return often, but it is high up in the second division, and a perfect recommendation for those who prefer the traditional approach.
on 18 February 2010
Never having got to know this noble work beyond its famous highlights, I decided that a complete recording was long overdue. I carefully researched the customer reviews of the available choices, and can happily confirm all that was said about Davis' classic recording. It may not be on period instruments, but the instrumental ensemble is relatively compact and undoubtedly energetic and precise. The vocal ensemble is excellent and it certainly makes an attractively priced and most enjoyable first full recording to own.
This performance dates originally from 1966, with this particular reissue being put out in 1993. It is a very fine performance in several ways, which is not surprising given the artists involved. The recorded sound is not bad in general, although not to the standards that we are routinely led to expect nowadays. The only significant problem I have with it concerns the higher soprano reaches in the choruses, where the tone seems a bit emaciated. I also suspect that the big climaxes at Hallelujah and Amen were probably rather grander in real life than they are allowed to sound here, but the Amen at least comes over impressively whatever my minor misgivings. I have no difficulties with the sound provided to the solo voices or the LSO, and clarity of the choir's enunciation is admirably served by the technical team throughout.
For me the main interest of the set is precisely its date. 1966 was early in the `authentic' movement, probably before it had established its credentials fully. Colin Davis was not one of the new school in the sense that, say, Hogwood or Pinnock were leading lights within it. His Messiah is at an interesting stage of the process, making more than just token concessions to the purists without going all the way with them. I sense some uncertainty and inconsistency in the style, but when all is said and done Davis is a lot closer to Pinnock in his approach than he is to the kind of Christmas tumble-throughs that we had been accustomed to on the BBC in the dark ages. Speeds are not controversial. Davis does not dawdle over For behold darkness or He was despised, but he does not hurry them either, and I was very interested to note that Pinnock, whose `authentic' credentials are impeccable, actually reverts to the old slow tempi in these numbers. There is a token attempt at dotting the rhythm in the early bars of The trumpet shall sound but I did not notice any more of that. There are also some rather sweet little experiments with ornamentation, largely a matter of a few shy trills on the violins but attempted here and there in the solos too. Where authenticity is kept at arm's length is in the solo singing, where vibrato still rules, and this calls for a little comment.
The new mode of singing made less difference to the bass voice than to the higher registers, and consequently the most satisfactory of the soloists is John Shirley-Quirk. Helen Watts is slightly suspect of English oratorio-contralto hootiness I suppose, but Heather Harper acquits herself very well, (making the right sort of allowances.) I am not so keen on the approach of the tenor John Wakefield. All is well at the start, and thank goodness for that because if he had spoiled the celestial Comfort ye and Every valley the performance could never have recovered, however good it turned out later on. In fact Wakefield handles these very well, and the problems start with All they that see Him. This and the other tenor numbers following are less suggestive of being half-way to the new style for singing early 18th century music than of being half-way to Verdi. Wakefield's desire to achieve expressiveness does him credit of course, but less would have been more all the same.
I mentioned ornamentation, and its application is mercifully rationed, although applied in odd ways at times. It is fine by me at He shall feed His flock, because that is just several repetitions of the same lyric melody, and I expect Handel would have thrown his wig at any singer who sang it unadorned. In other places it gets added to the kind of sublime vocal line that distinguishes Handel from all other composers, the vocal line of Comfort ye, or of He was despised, or of I know that my redeemer liveth. It is a very hard thing to get right.
It could be, I am sure, that many lovers of this great work give little or less for considerations of stylistic minutiae, if that is how the points just mentioned strike them. This has been a popular Messiah down the decades, and with good reason. It is also distinctly conceivable that other lovers of Handel think that Davis's approach is as far as they want to go with the purists and puritans. Myself, I enjoy this account of this extraordinary masterpiece, and to have the light shone on it from a new angle has brought me benefit too. For completeness I should mention that there is a liner essay but that the full text is not supplied, only the headings for each number. Also the aria Thou art gone up is sung by the bass and not by the contralto as stated, and it is all the better for that.
on 28 July 2013
For anyone that wants a "traditional" Handel Messiah, then look no further than this 1966 recording. This is traditional in the sense that it retains the 18th century embellishments, including the addition of an Overture. It uses more modern instruments and a bigger orchestra than Handel had access to. It is also a composite of versions made throughout Handel's lifetime, acknowledging that there was never a "definitive" version. It is therefore as complete as possible, with every version of the texts retained somewhere. This is the way "Messiah" was played for a long time before the recent trend of using a smaller orchestra with original instruments and based on just one of the many versions performed in Handel's lifetime.
My only criticism of this version is the overuse of the choir at the expense of soloists. (From this perspective, it is a shame the Charles Mackerras version is no longer available.)
Of course, the approach you prefer will depend on personal taste, but I like this version. The recording may sound slightly dated, but to me it also sounds more uplifting. Furthermore, the vocals are better performed and clearer than in any more recent version I have heard. It is also a darn sight cheaper! This is definitely entertainment that will make the listener "better" as Handel intended.
on 15 January 2011
My mother used to own a copy of the Messiah on Record. It went in a classic "clear out" of records and she's been asking for it for a few years so.. I brought this CD version for her for Christmas and she loved it! Now, I'm no expert with classical music but she knows Handel's messiah well. Anything with the London symphony and Sir Colin Davies will be great as far as I have heard. The singing is also top-class. This version will not let you down if it's a solid, true-to-the-original version you are looking for.