44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
vigorously dramatic, and a typical recording, but not clear,
This review is from: Handel: Messiah (Audio CD)
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!)