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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
Handel: Messiah (DG The Originals)
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 31 August 2017
I have already posted reviews of a couple of “Messiah” recordings, but I have a number in my collection and thought that it might be of use to post reviews of them online.

The first one I ever bought was the 1988 recording with the English Concert and Choir conducted from the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock and I retain a great deal of affection for this inspiring and sensitive version.

The performance does not strive to be ‘cutting-edge’ for the sake of it, but Pinnock uses his relatively large period forces ( a 37-person orchestra, including four oboes and two bassoons) to revitalise the traditional view of the work. The English Concert plays with lightness and sparkle in a confident, crisp, full-blooded performance.

The 32-strong English Concert Choir sings with impressive fleetness of articulation and achieve impressive moments of power in the bigger movements such as the Hallelujah Chorus.

Though it was written for just four soloists, in 1750 the work was adapted to include the alto castrato Guadagni and it is this 1750s version of the work which forms the basis for Pinnock’s recording, dividing the alto solos between a counter-tenor and a mezzo-soprano. The soloists are very fine. Soprano Arlene Auger is pretty much ideal; masterful in her arias and singing with a warm, clear voice, a lovely line and admirable clarity of diction. Anne Sofie von Otter is perhaps a little cool at times, but there is no gainsaying the dignity of her tone and the suppleness of her phrasing. Michael Chance makes a fine contribution singing the alto arias Handel created for Guadagni, while the least famous soloist, Howard Crook, best known as a haut-contre in the French Baroque repertoire, sings with power and flexibility in the tenor arias. The most controversial choice of soloist is perhaps the huge and slightly woolly bass of John Tomlinson, but I love him. There is something endearingly old-fashioned and swaggering his performance and his command of Handelian fioriture is impressive for someone embarking on a career singing Wagner; if you think that all early music performances are bloodless, listen to Tomlinson in tandem with Michael Laird’s trumpet in “The Trumpet shall sound”! All the singers ornament discreetly.

This is a very safe “Messiah” recommendation.
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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2014
Pinnock's DG-Archiv Messiah was the third recording to be made with period instruments using the historically-sensitive performing style. As such it's a pioneer version in the company of Hogwood's and Gardiner's versions. Of these three versions, I've found that I like Pinnock's the most. Despite a strong Monteverdi Choir in Jeggy's version, I felt that the performance tended to come off perfunctory with uneven soloists. It was also done at a time when Jeggy and his Team Monteverdi were finding their feet in the musical world. Hogwood's version had a team of soloists that was stronger than the choir. Pinnock's version is one of those versions that are strong in both departments. I find that it allows the work to express itself better, and it boasts a strong team of soloists. Pinnock has two altos in this performance, a male and a female alto. This makes it easier to do the Guadagni versions of But who may abide and Thou art gone up on high. But more on that later. In any case, Pinnock's orchestra is on fine form and ably supports the soloists and chorus. This performance is given atmospheric, clear recording in the Abbey Road Studios. Occasionally, I do wish that the chorus was forwardly balanced so that they could lend more impact to the all-important choral numbers. However there is balance between the singers and the orchestra and the inner voices can be heard clearly.

Pinnock's Messiah recording is one of the few that I have heard (so far) where the soloists in the team are uniformly excellent. They express themselves well in their various solos and have tasteful, discrete ornamentation. Of these soloists I absolutely LOVE Anne Sofie von Otter. I love the way she empathises with the words. Her rendition of He was despised is the most affecting rendition of recent years. Von Otter also shines and soars in her rendition of O thou that tellest. You can tell she is excited when singing the words. I also love Arleen Auger in her soprano solos. It's such a pity that she died young. She measures up well in the soprano solos, offering a sprightly reading of Rejoice greatly and a consoling rendition of I know that my Redeemer liveth. She also makes a perfect foil to von Otter in the duet version of He shall feed His flock. Michael Chance, as mentioned, is excellent in handling the Guadagni versions of But who may abide and Thou art gone up on high. He has a smooth tone and he handles the difficult runs for the refiner's fire. Howard Crook handles his tenor solos well. He is adept at Handel's virtuosic melismas and handles his affecting solos in the middle of Part Two (i.e. Thy rebuke and Behold and see.) And it's good to hear John Tomlinson in the bass parts. I admit that I would have liked his voice to spread a bit more so that you can hear him clearly. However, there is a commanding authority when he sings about the Lord of Hosts shaking the heaven and the earth. He also offers up excellent renditions of Why do the nations (in its long version) and The trumpet shall sound (where he is well-partnered by Michael Laird's trumpeting.) The choral singing has fervour, but I admit I could have done with a bit more bite and presence. There is body and balance and they handle Handel's virtuosic demands very well. They rise to the occasion for the Hallelujah chorus and Worthy is the lamb, and the horns that double the trumpets only make these choruses sound more exciting.

As you would have guessed from my other reviews of Pinnock's recordings, I love Pinnock's attempts in Baroque music. They are focused, direct and expressive, with no bells and whistles to draw too much attention to the performers. Though this is in many respects an excellent Messiah, I would like to note a few little caveats. Pinnock's speeds are, by and large, well-judged. However, on occasion, some numbers that have been taken at slow speeds could do with a bit more momentum and movement, especially within sequences of numbers. This in turn means that some numbers are underpaced and, in some cases, could do with a bit more bite to make an impact. For instance, I notice that the accompaniment in the first bass recitative and also the Surely chorus could have been brisker and allowed the singers to sing the words more forcefully. This is only a minor concern about this recording and does not affect my positive impression one little bit. In any case, I will still consider this Messiah a conciliatory version. It does not alienate the general public with breakneck speeds and it also has singers who can adapt well to early music and opera settings.

To sum everything up, this is a tight, focused and direct account of this well-loved Handel oratorio. I am grateful that DG has included it in its Originals series. It makes excellent value in this mid-price series. In relation to other recordings, I would put it slightly ahead of the Linn recording with Butt and the Dunedin Consort but below the Cleobury-King's College version (with Lynne Dawson). Even so, I know that this Messiah recording will still be a rewarding listen for anyone who wants an affordable quality version of this oratorio.
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on 7 December 2013
There are huge number of recordings of Handel's masterpieces on the market. Many are very good indeed. This is an exceedingly good 'middle of the road' version. It is historically informed but not too much so. The tempi are light but not excessive. If this seems damning with faint praise then it is not. This is really a superb performance, well conducted and with four soloists who are good to superb. Auger is radiant in all her solos. One could buy it for her alone. Von Otter sings 'He was despised' superbly. A most moving experience to rival even Janet Baker. Most important of all the essence of this Handelian masterpiece - the devotion - appears to have been caught more than on many recent versions.
This can certainly be recommending without reservation as the best 'central' performance of the Messiah - combining period practice with a devotional spirit. In fact it is the best all-round performance I know on disc. At its price one ought to snap it up.
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on 14 November 2008
You have to have the volume up above 1/2 way to get the full benefit of the solos. That said, it is a wonderful masterpiece, performed beautifully - the sort of CD that it will take a long time to get bored with! It comes with the words, so you can sing along - but like me, you probably already know them! I am especially pleased that I decided to buy this CD.
21 people found this helpful
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on 2 September 2009
If you must have this work on period instruments, this is it! Buy it! I have four others Messiahs on period instruments, but this is the best of those four I have. The orchestra, choir and solists is top nocht. Espesiially Anne Sofie von Otter. The tempos is correct. I just love it. The choir is not too small here, The choir is one of the best chamber choir in the world.
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on 28 December 2008
I bought this recording almost 20 years ago and it still is one that I come back to again and again. The recording quality (like much of the Archiv otuput) is excellent, and the choir and orchestra are first rate. There are no disappointing soloists - and all combine to provide and thrilling rendition of this great Oratorio. Even if you aren't a big fan of original instruments, the warmth and vibrancy of this recording are at times profoundly moving. I can't recommend this recording highly enough.
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on 15 February 2009
The soloists are very good, Croft is the weakest. The chorus and instrumental forces are too small. The effect is a Messiah that is very carefully considered (extreme rhythmic and dynamic precision, gentle, graceful but lacking in drama and grandeur (you need bigger forces to create the necessary architectural grandeur).) (Pinnock doesn't give the music enough freedom; it's too controlled, in a miniature way). Lacks any feeling of the sensual or the sublime or the numinous. It's a very carefully articulated pastel miniature. My favorites are Christie (Harmonia Mundi), Hogwood (l'Oiseau-lyre), Parrott (Virgin), Higginbottom (Naxos), Colin Davis (for a modern instrument version)and (maybe also Pearlman, Boston Baroque (Telarc)).
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on 3 January 2010
I'm rather disappointed with the sound quality of this CD. I really like the small scale of the performance, and it is beautifully played and sung. However, the sound is so vague, distant and lacking in clarity that I feel I'm miles away from what is going on. With a small-scale version like this, I want to be right in amongst the players, but they sound too far away. There isn't enough impact or presence to the music.

The music also has an unnatural feel to it, as if it has been over-processed on a computer. The result is that the diction of all the singers, both choir and soloists, is poor. Other reviewers have criticised Jon Tomlinson, the bass, but of all the singers on this recording, the sound quality does him the least favours.

I found I was constantly turning up the volume just to hear what was going on. I found my attention wandering, and the work dragging. Listening with headphones did not improve the experience either.

So overall, a very reasonable price from Amazon, but rather disappointing. I'm puzzled as to why this recording has received such enthusiastic reviews on Amazon, and in the Penguin Classics guide. I am fairly new to Messiah, and I can now see why so many of its followers are on a ceaseless quest to find the one version they really like. I reckon I have now joined them.
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on 24 January 2007
This is a magnificent recording. It is played on period instruments but is regal and devotional in nature. The singing is uniformly exquisite. If you are considering an authentic Messiah this is the one on every count; a masterpiece!
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on 19 November 2012
With today's standards, this sounds a bit heavy-handed with a too large orchestra and choir. It is still a good recording, possible the best of the 80's alongside Gardiner's more radical interpretation. The soloists are OK, except for the bass who sounds harsh - is he having a cold?

I recommend Gardiner's version from 1983 over this, but my favourite is Dunedin Consorts rendition - it's more intimate and sparkling.
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