on 18 December 2003
I first heard this recording as a teen on vinyl and have spend the last few years trying to track it down on CD. The appeal of this particular version is that it is scored for a small orchestra, such as would have performed it at the time of writing, and without any more modern instruments that have crept into use since the piece was written. This makes the sound so much more precise and clear, and every nuance can be heard. The soloists are outstanding, particularly the alto which has the most demanding part and can so often disappoint. And it's a small point, but the choir sings in an English accent. Basically buy this version of the Messiah over any others - it's loads better!
on 4 January 2006
The first ever version I bought of the Messiah was this recording on vinyl when it was first released. Having long ago banished my turntable to the attick I have regularly asked for CD's of the Messiah as gifts.
Having been dissapointed time and again by slow, overblown, durgy or football crowd renditions i finally sought out the CD version of this masterpeice again.
What joy! Such a lively flowing fresh performance unmatched by any other I've heard. If you're tired of ponderous, brash hollywood cast of thousands versions of this masterpiece, tell your family NOT to buy you yet another budget priced recording - hang the expense- this is the CD for you.
on 24 November 2004
If you want a copy of the Messiah but are daunted by the choice, this is the one you want.
This is performed on "original instruments" and therefore is as pure as it's going to get. But whether you're a purist or just a happy appreciator (like me), this is the most wonderful, most glorious rendering of this piece of music!
The day we got these two CDs we dedicated the day to listening to it as a family with pauses after each of the three sections. I typed up copies of the words for everyone, we turned the speakers up and it was almost like being there in concert. Everyone now has a great appreciation for both the music and the words.
Just glorious music!
on 14 September 2011
I bought this to replace the original vinyl version, no longer listened to. It was a good choice. Christopher Hogwood has the most brilliant touch with any musical piece that he turns his attention to. Even after all these years since it was first recorded, the music and the voices have a genuine, honest quality about them - perhaps, because CH has removed much of the over excited 'nonsense' that most put into 'their' version of the Alleluja chorus. When you hear it on this CD you will understand why King George was reputed to have jumped from his seat and insisted on it being sung again!
Highly recommended - buy it - you won't be disappointed.
on 19 April 2014
Having just caught the tail end of this morning's tribute to this wonderful recording on Radio 3 (Easter Saturday 2014) with Emma Kirkby and others discussing its merits and the fun they had making it, I went in search of it on Amazon with a view to perhaps purchasing another version to my own. Messiah is my very favourite, having sung it many times as a chorus soprano with my choral society and it is played over and over in the run up to Christmas as I wrap presents - the box is very worn. I was listening to the programme in the car whilst shopping and joined in with 'For unto us a child is born' - what a superb recording I thought and rushed home to explore CD reviews. When I read in one of these that there may be some strange pronunciations - because the bass's odd pronunciation of 'incorruptible' in 'The trumpet shall sound' is the only fault I can find on my recording - I went to find mine. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover (how could I not have known without looking?!) that mine is this very same recording! Thank you Radio 3 and Amazon reviews - and my husband all those years ago for choosing the best!
on 3 November 2008
It really depends on what you want from a Messiah as to what you want hear on a recording. If you like huge choirs of men and women and large orchestras with woodwind, then avoid this recording as it is not your style! However, if you like period instruments, this is a natural choice. The overall sound is sharper and more austere than many recordings, but this is also partly due to its origins.
This is the 1754 version for the Foundling Hospital, when 4 or 6 trebles and 13 men from the Chapel Royal were used as the choir; and two soparanos, an alto, tenor and bass performed the solos. This authentic, documented arrangement is quite different from many modern performances, which also omit half a dozen or so arias and recitatives that are recorded here (including "Death where is thy sting?").
Overall, this recording of Messiah feels right. The dark, scratchy sound from the orchestra is summoned for "He was despised and rejected of men." Emma Kirkby dazzles with clarity in "He is like a refiners fire". The (all important) Hallelujah chorus is strong, confident and has a great finally - but is less exuberant than some. This is made up for by "Worth is a lamb that was slain" that is a wall of sound from the off.
So it won't suit everyone, but it is a cracking version and a great one to have, especially if it is the only one you own!
on 17 March 2004
You don't have to be interested in religion to appreciate the stunning achievement that this composition represented. So many people only know it from overblown versions with massive choirs, a sort of battleship approach to music. It was not written to be performed like that at all, and Hogwood went 'back to basics' to get as close as he could to the musical form that Handel originally wanted.
It's a remarkable success, and it makes Handel's achievement all the clearer. The vocal performances are very good, and Kirkby's subsequent fame owes a lot to her performance here. But it's not an Emma Kirkby CD, it's Handel's Messiah, and focussing on her at the cost of the other artists is just not appropriate.
If you don't know this version, do take my word for it - it's incredible. A must!
I confess I am writing this review having only listened to the highlights but on the strength of my enjoyment, I have ordered the whole set.
This was a groundbreaking recording when it first appeared. It was the first recording of Messiah to be issued played on original instruments and heralded a trend of performing Baroque music only with instruments of the period. This meant that the concert pitch was a shade lower than what we are used to, that strings were made of cat gut rather than metal and that brass instruments did not have the valves found in their modern counterparts and they therefore had to rely on the natural harmonic series. Thirty years on, it is hard to recall the impact this recording had on listeners. There are many more players familiar with Baroque style who also have the technical abilty to overcome all the limitations of these instruments. Any professional performance or recording is much more likely to be performed with authentic instruments.
We also have singers who specialised in early music. Emma Kirkby and Paul Elliot especially, had voices that would never sound entirely right in music written after 1800 wheras other recordings of Messiah have singers who are heard in a wider variety of music.
So, does this pioneering performance still stand up well 30 years after it was first recorded? I think it does.
This performance is a recreation of one given by Handel at the Foundling Hospital is 1643 and many versions of the arias and choruses are different to the ones that are most familiar. I still find it odd to hear Emma Kirkby's high soprano in 'But who may abide the day of his coming' - very traditional performances have this sung by a bass [my preference] and more recent ones sung by an alto voice. Paul Elliot had a very light tenor voice: his rendition of Comfort ye/Evr'y Valley is very sensitively sung if for me lacking weight. David Thomas is the bass on this recording, another Baroque specialist. I was fascinated by his rendition of 'The trumpet shall sound' in which he sings 'incorruptible' with the accent on 'tible' rather than 'ruptible', reminding the listeners that English was not Handel's first language [it was either his 3rd or even 4th]. There were moments on this particular recording that brought out Vivaldi's Italian influence on Handel.
This choir on this recording is Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Oxford which was directed by Simon Preston. The sounds are beautifully blended and the choir of men and boys sings with great fervour and alertness.
Although 'authentic' performances of Baroque music can be a bit more rapid that more traditional ones and phrasing more chopped up and precious, I did not notice these quirks on this recording. What you get is a wonderfully sung and played version of Messiah that communicates as the best performances of this work do.
As more people might be likely to look for Hogwood's Messiah on this page, it might be good if I posted my review here.
This Hogwood version is one of many excellent renditions of the oratorio that have been made in recent years. It is notable for being a paradigm shift version, vindicating the historically-sensitive performance style and its approximation of the known performance practices of the composer's era. Though there are occasional blips in this presentation of the oratorio, this is a light-textured, committed rendition. This Hogwood version removed a lot of the stodge that crept into many Messiah performances with time. So it followed in the footsteps of the RCA Robert Shaw Chorale version and the Philips recording of Sir Colin Davis and the LSO.
Hogwood's fast tempi were exceptional at the time, but now we are more accustomed to them. Although I liked his flowing way with slow numbers, I found that I wished for a bit more propulsion and momentum in the fast numbers. However, there is a spring in the step and the performance keeps to a steady course between fast and slow numbers.
Hogwood's team of soloists fit perfectly into the mood of his whole performance. They are lighter than the operatic voices that have graced many a Messiah recording. Even so, they project themselves rather well. Granted, of all the soloists, I am fondest of Kirkby, Watkinson and Thomas. They enunciate their words clearly and sell the text well. The lower-voiced soloists are both excellent, and for some strange reason I find that I tend to like them just a little more than the higher-voiced soloists. I am taken with Carolyn Watkinson's two big alto solos, especially her affecting reading of He was despised. I am rather fond of David Thomas's firm, rock-steady and strongg (but not woolly) bass voice. His singing has a commanding presence in his first recitative, the short version of Why do the nations and in The Trumpet shall sound.
Of the higher soloists, Paul Elliott could do with just a bit more projection, but he still handles his various solos and melismatic runs well. His Comfort ye and Every valley are bracing, and I liked the way he highlighted words in Thou shalt break them.
Hogwood uses Judith Nelson and Emma Kirkby as the two sopranos. I did have some doubts about Judith Nelson as the soprano. Not to begrudge her beautiful voice, but I wished that her consonants and enunciation would come off clearly. Kirkby, on the other hand, fares better. Her voice is strong, but her words sound comparatively clearer and better inflected. I feel sad that Hogwood did not allot her with more arias to sing. Kirkby handles the Guadagni versions of But who may abide and Thou art gone up on high, but transposed to a higher key. She also handles If God be for us. After listening to this recording I quietly wished that Hogwood had allotted Kirkby with Rejoice greatly, He shall feed His flock and I know that my Redeemer liveth.
The choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford steps in to handle the choral numbers. They are adept at handling the difficult choral lines. However I found myself wishing for more when the choir came in. I occasionally wished that their singing could be a bit more full-throated, more robust and less precious. I noticed that this issue was a bit more pronounced in Part Two. There are times in full-choir passages when I noticed that the men were a bit louder and the soprano parts did not project themselves forwardly. I notice this during the middle of Part Two, during Lift up your heads and Let all the angels. However, the famous Hallelujah had thrill, excitement and frisson in the second half.
This Hogwood recording of Messiah uses the performance scheme of Handel's 1754 Foundling Hospital version, known to be one of Handel's last performance schemes. As such some of the movements are different from the movements in the "legacy" combination favoured by Ebenezer Prout and the Victorians. (Since the Hogwood version, Andrew Parrott and Paul McCreesh have followed the same performance pattern.) As mentioned above, Kirkby handles the two Guadagni settings but in a higher key. In addition, we get a short Pifa, the soprano solo version of He shall feed His flock and the short version of Why do the nations. I miss the mixed version of He shall feed His flock but I don't mind the short version of Why do the nations. I know that the long version is a Handelian utterance but this aria is not a set piece and forms part of a sequence. In any case the numbers do not differ to the standard preferences that have been handed down through the years.
It's interesting that Hogwood and his team re-did the Messiah for a video version with the Westminster Abbey Choir. I don't mean any offence to this version, but I note that the video version feels more supple and more exciting and the soloists are more seasoned. There is comparatively more propulsion and frisson in the video version, especially in more vigorous numbers. So while this studio recording is a wonderful account, I can't help thinking that the video version does more justice to Hogwood's interpretation.
There have been many more rewarding recordings of Messiah since Hogwood made this version. Some of them are more theatrical and others are more understated. In any age, each new recording has unique insights to offer. I have embraced the Pinnock and Butt recordings (even though I was not too happy with Pinnock's near-stalling tempi in slow numbers) and I have had the chance to hear McCreesh, Christophers and the Sixteen (on Coro) and William Christie. Of the other Messiahs in the historically-sensitive mould, I am fondest of Stephen Cleobury and his King's College Chapel forces, notably his 90s version with the Brnadenburg Consort. There are two versions of this, one on Decca (recorded in King's College Chapel) and another on Brilliant Classics, taken from live performances in the Pieterskerk. I know I am a dyed-in-the-wool King's fan, but that recording struck me as one of the best-balanced Messiahs where everything was in the right place without any fireworks or bells and whistles. I know I shouldn't be provincial in vouching for this recording, but Cleobury and King's tend to slip under the radar when people are in search of a Messiah recording.
Still, I am pleased that Hogwood made this Messiah recording. Despite its blips, it is still a likeable rendition of the oratorio. Like many Messiah lovers I am very happy to have it in my collection, knowing that it prompted a paradigm shift in the way the work was performed and received.