Top positive review
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Beautiful period performance of a choral masterwork
on 17 July 2016
This 2002 Australian performance of Handel’s oratorio 'Messiah' (not 'The Messiah' as on the DVD), one of the most popular choral works in the repertoire and based entirely on Biblical texts, is eminently satisfactory and enjoyable. Antony Walker, who has since become Music Director of the Pittsburgh Opera, conducts the vocal ensemble Cantillation and the Orchestra of the Antipodes (both co-founded by him) with sprightly tempos and clear textures. The choir of 25 singers is evenly balanced among the four vocal parts with an additional bass singer, while the orchestra of 23 musicians play on period instruments, closely following the composer’s autographed score.
Among the five vocal soloists the acclaimed New Zealand operatic baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes stands out for the power and clarity of his singing. The splendid aria ‘Why do the nations so furiously rage together?’ is taken at a furious pace by Walker and the orchestra, but Rhodes pulls the demanding singing off without any sign of strain. Also impressive is the tenor Paul McMahon, for example in the delightful and equally demanding aria ‘Every valley shall be exalted’, which is sung expressively but without excess. Again in the bass aria ‘The trumpet shall sound’, Rhodes sings powerfully and joyfully accompanied by the trumpet soloist. In her turn, the soprano Sara Macliver gives a beautifully measured rendition of the aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’.
In all the choral numbers the ensemble Cantillation rises admirably to the occasion. Both ‘For unto us a child is born’ and ‘Glory to God in the highest’ are sung powerfully, yet in keeping with the conductor’s sprightly approach. The famous ‘Hallelujah’ chorus is reinforced by superb playing by the brass and percussion sections of the orchestra. Another chorus, ‘Since by man came death’, opens with very slow and florid singing, which is then excellently contrasted with faster passages. The same alternating between a slow introduction and faster passages characterises the final chorus, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain’ (which contains the Amen).
The only reason why I am not awarding 5 stars is the absence of any booklet. In a work such as this access to the sung texts would be really helpful. Of course they can be obtained online, but it is simply better customer service to provide an accompanying booklet. In all other respects, including the chapel setting and camera work, this DVD is highly recommended.