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Customer reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Handel Messiah
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on 1 September 2017
The instrumentation is fine and well-presented (although those who prefer the more modern version will fine it rather thin)

What spoils the disc is what appears to be digital editing which clips the consonants from some passages or even flattens the vowel sound itself, making those notes mere sung notes without a real word attached - rather like an old-style computer speech synthesis.

A better version would be an un-editted performance - warts and all perhaps and less pristine or polished , but nevertheless keeping the music alive which is so vital in such beautiful music
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on 21 October 2016
Another excellent recording from the always reliable Dunedin Consort and Players. It's so refreshing to hear Messiah sung by a handful of performers instead of the usual massed choirs. It brings great clarity and a new perspective to the familiar and much loved words. The singing and musicianship is uniformly excellent. Cheaper recordings are of course available but you get what you pay for.
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on 11 January 2008
There are many versions of 'Messiah' available, ranging from those with choirs in the hundreds(Sargent. Beecham, et al)to those with much smaller choirs and with period instruments (Pinnock and others). But even if you have these, the is a version in the 'must have' category. There are only 13 choir members and the soloists 'double' from the choir. This would be an approach quite familiar to Handel; many oratorios were performed thus.In this version every crotchet is absolutely accurate; reading against the 'Dublin' score, and there are only trivial and very few 'cuts'. The sheer musicality has, in my view, never been achieved before - and I have been listening to 'Messiah' in live performance and on disc for over 50 years. Every aria and every chorus is 'fresh' and the diction, intonation, musical nuance and breath control are all superb. If you buy an oratorio disc this year, and even if you have many versions of Messiah, this is a 'must have'. Moving and memorable - quite outstanding.
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on 12 August 2017
One of the few Messiah recordings I couldn't bear to listen to, to the end. I have almost every noteworthy Messiah recording of the past 65 years (> 35 versions) and this is one of only 3 recordings of this masterpiece that I couldn't bear to listen to to the end; the other 2 are the Harnoncourt and the Mackerras (EMI) versions. It may be an authentic Dublin performance, simple, well researched, but the soloists are awful and the chorus is scrawny and joyless. An antiseptic clinical performance, it’s like being in a hospital, dry without pathos without true feeling, without emotion, without “affetto”. Without emotion you are very far away from Baroque Art. The forces are skeletal, just 13 vocalists and a 17-member orchestra. Yes there are some fine moments, for example the generally stylish conducting, but overall this performance just doesn’t cut it as art. This recording proves that the UK critical reviewing establishment who have praised this recording are either deaf or corrupt, probably both. Some have rated this as one of the best Messiah recordings, (BBC) (Gramophone). To me this seems unbelievable without some behind the scenes maneuvering to get all the critical acclaim and awards this recording received. These critics are probably reacting to the fact that this is a very neglected version of Messiah (Dublin 1742) and not performed often. They are looking for something historical, very academic, something analytical and devoid of human warmth and feeling, maybe because they themselves are like that. Who knows. Emotionally and dramatically it's awful. If you want a simple elegant version look at the Higginbottom Naxos recording, albeit a different version (1751).
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on 4 November 2006
An excellent version, nicely sung and recorded, with excellent performances of all the "big" numbers - brisk, but never breathless. The soloists (no big names) are uniformly good.

Only one (personal) reservation - I'm very partial to the spine-chilling counter-tenor version of "For He is like a refiner's fire", done best of all by Paul Esswood for Charles Mackerras. As this recording seeks to provide the first Dublin performance, we get the less virtuosic bass version of that version. But that's my only quibble. Highly recommended.
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on 27 December 2006
I just thought I'd point out that this performance uses the 6-8 version of Rejoice. I've looked at that in the score but I've never heard it performed. I found it utterly charming.

Overall, having performed Messiah more times than I care to count, this performance is an enjoyable, new look at the work. At least, new to me.
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on 22 February 2007
Having listened to many of the various versions of Messiah, and previously having had The English Concert/Pinnock (Archiv) as my top choice, this new release from the Dunedin Consort has now surpassed that. Sure, it's sometimes tricky to compare recordings of different performing versions of the Messiah (of which there are many) but this recording of the 1742 Dublin version, whilst it might have been originally adapted by Handel to cater for soloists of perhaps a lesser quality than he could lay his hands on elsewhere, is by no means a 'poorer' version for that, certainly if this recording is anything to go by.

Where this recording really excels is the superb diction of both choir and the soloists drawn from within. Maybe easier to achieve with smaller forces than on most other recordings but the diction is supreme nonetheless. Clare Wilkinson's 'He Was Despised' comes up in quite the most heart rending and tragic rendition I have ever heard (which is how it should be) and is for me, the premier highlight amongst many. The overall oratorio is presented with such charm and the sense that Charles Jennens' collection of Scriptures is narrated as an entire story from start to finish.

The playing of the Dunedin Players is superb and the balance between choir and instrumentalists in the Hallelujah Chorus in particular is supreme and produces a rendition most joyful, (aided by the wonderfully punchy trumpets and timpani) far removed from the Victoriana pomposity of a number of older versions and the numerous 'Come Along and Sing' Hallelujahs (and Messiahs in general) frequently put on each year.

Quite the most sublime and joyful recorded version of Messiah I've ever heard. The Dunedin Consort and Players (not to mention John Butt!) should be proud.
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VINE VOICEon 4 September 2014
I have just come out the other end of a Handel binge and listened to this version of Messiah with John Butt and the Dunedin Consort. It is a very good performance, a worthy reconstruction of the first Dublin version.

John Butt leads a wonderful team of singers and players. Although I enjoy their efforts, I find that there might be something lacking. I do not doubt their commitment, but I sense that this performance might lack the immediacy and conviction that some other performances have. I am thinking, for instance, of the 2008 Harry Christophers/Sixteen recording and even the 1990s Cleobury/King's College version with the Brandenburg Consort. However this performance excels in conveying the quiet confidence in God that this oratorio espouses.

I've noted that some of the soloists have light, airy voices with little body and presence. I observe this particularly of the soprano and tenor soloists (Susan Hamilton and Nicholas Mulroy). Although their voices may be small-sounding, they acquit themselves wonderfully in their solos and handle the difficult melismas very well. The higher soloists seem to fare better in the simpler arias with fewer melismatic runs. In this respect I know that my Redeemer liveth comes off best out of all the soprano numbers. This number conveys a quiet, assuring confidence in God and Susan Hamilton meets the vocal requirements well. The alto and bass solos fare better. Clare Wilkinson fares well in the alto solo version of He shall feed His flock and especially in He was despised. I've been fond of Anne Sofie von Otter's delivery of the latter in the Pinnock recording, but Wilkinson still offers an affecting reading of that aria. The bass soloist, Matthew Brook, is the best of the five soloists. In his first recitative he has a commanding authority and presence, especially when he sings about the Lord of Hosts shaking the universe. His rendition of The trumpet shall sound is a standout, as are his renditions of the original versions of But who may abide and Thou art gone up on high.

When I say these things I'm not implying that we should regress to the days of extravagant Messiahs done by Beecham or even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In some of the recent historically informed versions, there are some excellent soloists who have strong voices that still adapt well to early music settings. It is just that the soprano and tenor soloists tend to sound weak here.

John Butt directs a steady, focused and committed performance and has some excellent orchestral playing and choral singing. It is good that his choir has a clear-textured, balanced sound and handles the difficult choruses so well. For unto us, All we like sheep and His yoke is easy are among the better choruses in this recording. The difficult melismas come off well across the various voices. I love the concept of the soloists doubling as choir members and singing the choruses with the ensemble. However I do wish that the chorus had been crisper and more incisive in note attacks, especially in the more robust choruses. I note this especially in the famous Hallelujah chorus where there is a lack of punch due to flaccid word and note attacks.

It is refreshing to hear the Dublin version of Messiah to know how various numbers differ from the versions that Handel composed for later performances. I am pleased with the momentum that is generated towards the end of Part Two. I am pleased that this recording uses the short version of Why do the nations rather than the long version as featured in the hand-me-down legacy text. Why do the nations is not a set-piece number in the manner of The trumpet shall sound or even O thou that tellest. It is part of a sequence that leads up to the Hallelujah chorus. When we are within sight of the Hallelujah chorus it would be good not to hold up the momentum with the long version as we tend to do. The short version leads so effectively into Let us break their bonds asunder without a hitch or delay.

Sound-wise this recording is well-engineered, well-balanced and clear, worthy of Linn's standards. Even so, I note that the recording is occasionally dry and lacking in some ambience. I like to note that sometimes old buildings lend a unique resonance to the performance of such pieces. I'm not in any way saying that we need to have muddy recordings. Rather I am saying that it would be good if there was a bit more resonance that did not cloud the intricacies of this work.

When all is said and done, though, I still think this is a very good and valiant Messiah recording. It is one of many pleasurable recordings of this oratorio that have come in recent years. As of now I would place it behind the Cleobury'King's College recording done in the Pieterskerk but slightly ahead of Pinnock's DG version. I've noted in recent years that the Cleobury/King's (90s version) has edged past Hogwood, Gardiner and Pinnock to become my preferred choice. However, I will still return to this Messiah recording with pleasure.
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on 5 February 2009
There are so many editions! But this one is crisp, lively and very musical. The one-to-a-part rendition is quite a revelation and the quality of the singing is excellent. This is the absolute antidote to the Huddersfield Choral Society...! Highly recommended.
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on 28 April 2009
If you're looking for a grandiose and majestic Messiah, then stop reading now. Beecham is the chap. This is a small-scale performance, with twelve singers and around that number of players, in an exploration not only of the content, but also the scale, of the work's first outing in Dublin.

As might be expected, the tempi are generally brisker than a larger performance, but never overly rushed, and not relentlessly fast. What really stands out is the elegant phrasing, the razor sharp ensemble, and the diction; you can hear every note and every word.
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