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Customer Review

55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sensational 'Messiah' with a Difference, 21 Dec. 2006
This review is from: Handel: Messiah (1751 version) (Edward Higginbottom) (Naxos) (Audio CD)
I had some doubts about this Messiah before I opened it and started playing it. My doubts disappeared almost immediately and never reappeared. This is, simply put, a sensational recording of Handel's best-loved oratorio. And it has the added attraction of being the version he prepared for a 1751 London performance in which the soprano parts were taken by boy trebles. The performers here are the Choir of New College, Oxford, the Academy of Ancient Music, three solo trebles, countertenor Iestyn Davies, tenor Toby Spence and bass Eamonn Dougan all under the direction of New College's long-time music director, Edward Higginbottom.

I'm not enough of a scholar of the various performing editions of 'Messiah' to be able to cite chapter and verse about how this version might differ from others. Suffice it to say that Handel didn't actually leave a definitive version and over the many years that I've heard (or sung) performances of the work, there have often been slight differences. It did not take me long to become very fond of the three solo trebles (Henry Jenkinson, Otta Jones and Robert Brooks) in their solo outings. I was taken by every single treble solo. A friend of mine says he thinks that 'He shall feed his flock' is the loveliest thing Handel ever wrote; I don't know that I'd necessarily agree with him, but I must say that Davies and Jones do a superb job with it.

As for the choir, it is magnificent. Obviously their sound is that of the English cathedral tradition and there are some who don't much care for it; I, on the other hand, admire it wholeheartedly. Higginbottom uses fairly quick tempi and the choir handles those flying semiquavers (in, for instance, 'For unto us a Child is given') with exceedingly clean technique. The choir consists of only eighteen singers, so the choral sound is light and clear, unlike those huge choruses we used to hear when I was a boy -- I remember Malcolm Sargent's recording with the Huddersfield choir that was wonderful but always felt like a steam locomotive trying to get up to speed.

Sound is marvelous. No one would be paupered by this two-CD set as it is budget-priced. It's truly worth a strong recommendation.

Scott Morrison
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