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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.
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on 12 December 2008
I've heard recordings conducted by Mackerras, Parrott, Suzuki, Sargent and others - all of them with much to offer - but this is my favourite. Playing, singing and recording are all first rate, but more than that, this is the only disc, in my experience, that gives us Handel's setting of The Greatest Story Ever Told with the requisite profundity and nobility, while never sounding heavy or too slow. I can see why it was the BBC's Building a Library first choice in the 90s.

There are only two possible problems, hardly worth mentioning. First, the recording of the end lacks impact for some reason - so just increase the volume for the final choruses. Second, John Tomlinson's voice and interpretation gave me great pleasure, but his operatic approach differs from that of his excellent colleagues. I have to say it doesn't bother me. A wonderful release!
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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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In his interesting liner note with this 2006 Archive Originals reissue Anthony Burton tells us that `speeds are on the whole on the fast side'. In case this has you expecting Hogwood-style speed record attempts, be not afraid. Speeds are sometimes distinctly slow, almost pre-authentic speeds, and e.g. Behold darkness and He was despised are taken little if at all faster than Beecham takes them. In general Pinnock's tempi are pretty average. The one number that struck me as really speedy was His yoke is easy, and I like the lightness of foot that Pinnock achieves, even if I can't shake off my hankering for the sauntering speed that Beecham adopts, almost as if he were swinging his cane.

If all that suggests that this is an `authentic' performance, but of the approachable rather than the uncompromising school, that would be the right impression. It uses the approved sort of instruments, and the chorus contains 32 singers. The text used is exactly the same text as in the more recent Cleobury account, now available on Brilliant Classics, so if that was Handel's 1752 version then so must this one be. Discreet ornamentation and the occasional little cadenza are allowed, very sparingly in Comfort ye I am happy to report and even in He shall feed His flock (which is only several repetitions of the same tune), and the only cadenza of any length is to The trumpet shall sound, which, as the longest number in the entire work, can support it very well. One interesting decision is to have two altos, Anne-Sofie von Otter and Michael Chance, and the liner even deigns to tell us which is singing when. The other soloists are Arleen Auger, Howard Crook and John Tomlinson, fine artists all but not names that spring immediately to mind as `Early Music' types. They all do very well indeed, and in fact Tomlinson adds something particularly important to the entire performance.

If Tomlinson's sound is operatic it is all the better for that, to my ideas of the effect Handel's Messiah should create. Handel was a kind of Old Testament prophet born out of his time and Messiah should sock it to us. It opens up with what seems to me the greatest thing that was ever called a recitative, and both Vickers on Beecham's set and Ainsley on Cleobury's perform as required, Ainsley helped not a little by a special kind of recorded sound that takes getting used to. With these fresh in my mind I felt a danger that Crook's otherwise excellent account, and the perfectly acceptable recorded effect, lacked the final ounce of vividness, and that impression carried on through the sublime aria and chorus that follow. What then made the crucial difference for me was Tomlinson's Thus saith the Lord, and in particular his terrific `I will shake...' Is he a bit operatic? I dare say he is, and all the better for that. Now I was getting what I really wanted to hear, the true epic stuff of Handel as Shaw calls it. `Once an opera composer always an opera composer' says John Eliot Gardiner of Handel in the interview he gives to accompany his Solomon. This is not the voice I would think right for Bach cantatas, but Messiah is something else altogether, and I like Tomlinson here right after the start, and I like him in The trumpet shall sound just before the end, and I like him in everything he does in between.

The chorus perform admirably, and I don't think there is a lot else to say about them. So do the soloists, but the number that stays with me more than any other is I know that my Redeemer liveth as sung by Arleen Auger. This is a piece of music in the totally extraordinary class, and Auger captures to something near perfection the sense of the redeemed soul gazing out over the eternal vista of paradise, transfixed serene and exalted. What I am not certain of is how you may react to the way Pinnock handles the orchestral part here. He almost seems to be maintaining a stiff British upper lip, whether or not that was what he intended. Otherwise there is the general question of how the recording treats the solo voices. Cleobury's set is fresh in my recollection, and the sound given to the soloists took me aback to start with and by just the second hearing had me delighted. However I do not dispute that this is an entirely personal reaction. I am glad in a way that the rough-and-ready assessment process with only five stars to play with is not more finely graded, otherwise I might need 50 stars and suffer agonies of indecision in awarding them. I don't quite rate this set equal to Cleobury's, but it is somewhere in the same ballpark, and considering the bargain rates we can obtain my easy and very agreeable advice is to own both.
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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 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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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 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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