This is the special edition re-issue of the 1999 Christie Harmonia Mundi recording. It comes in a special book format. It is a sheer triumph as many have said. I consider it the best recording of Messiah ever. It won a Choc Award from the French magazine "Le monde de la Musique". Sheer perfection. A must. The performance follows the score of Handel's later year modifications incorporating changes made in 1745 (the sound is gone out) and changes made in 1750 (thou art gone up on high). The performances of the soloists are ravishing; there is no better version available for the soloists parts. The other definitive recordings are: 1)for its overall quality ( no star soloists as here) is the Parrott Traverner Choir (Virgin) recording of the Foundling Hospital Version, an exquiste recording along with this one, and 2) Hogwood (l'Oiseau Lyre) for overall fine orchestral playing, very fine tenor and soloists generally and a boy's choir. On this Christie disc the choral singing is very fine indeed although slightly soprano heavy, it is superb and quite beautiful.
So thoroughly anglicised was GF Handel by 1741 that this his most famous work is, above all, a triumphant succession of tunes. No Bachian intellectualisms here (word painting, complex counterpoint) or Vivaldian chiaroscuro (dramatic intensity, dark and minor tonalities). Messiah, by contrast, can seem like the music of simple and foot-tapping piety - music for the sole, perhaps.
Handel's oratorio is given excellent soloists in this recording. Rarely has such vocal talent been assembled, with Andreas Scholl (Alto) and Mark Padmore (Tenor) probably the pick of the bunch. The 2005 reissue offers a lavishly illustrated booklet putting Messiah in its historical context. Curiously though, those illustrations that fall within the French and German sections bear only French and German captions, thus rendering them less than perfectly intelligible to me, at least. Quel malheur!
Those that know Messiah well may consider this a somewhat conservative recording. Although its vocal parts could scarcely be bettered, the orchestra (or recording, or both) lacks punch. Co-incidentally, I heard this work performed a couple of weeks ago, by The Welsh Baroque, using exactly the same orchestration (with valveless trumpets instead of the horns here and a single double-bass instead of the two used by Les Arts Florissants). Although such an ensemble sustained my interest, this was probably largely visual and visceral. On CD, I would have loved to hear a theorbo, a chalumeau or a viola d'amore adding a splash of exotic colour, à la Vivaldi. Failing which, something more fiery and charismatic in its delivery.
For those who prefer their traditions unmessed with, this recording would do fine. For those listeners wanting an injection of colour and novelty into their Messiah experience, however, the alternative recording on the same (Hamonia Mundi) label, this time under the direction of René Jacobs (2006), would be well worth considering. William Christie's version may feel too earth-bound.
This recording of Messiah doesn't really stand out in any way: It's by no means bad or anything, but it fails to excite me. There is just nothing to recommend this recording over other period performance. A couple of years ago, you could get this along with the Harmonia Mundi catalogue at bargain price, and although this is infinately better than other, ham-fisted recordings out there at bargain price, at full price it pales in comparison to other period performance competitors, such as McCreesh, Gardiner or even the old-timers Hogwood and Pinnock. The orchestra on this recording is large and powerful, but precise. It hasn't got the shine and excitement of other orchestras, but is't adequate, as is the choir. The soloists are all okay-ish for the job, but again, they are not really exciting. The exception that proves the rule, however, is Mark Padmore. He delivers a majestic performance, but the tempi (chosen by the conductor?) in the tenor pieces chains his vocal talents to the orchestral weight. Best case scenario: If it's christmas, and you have got to save your money for either a ticket to the local Messiah concert with a full symphony orchestra, 120 amateur singers and dramatic soloists past their peak, and this very recording is lying in a bargain bin bundled with the '99 Harmonia Mundi catalogue at just about the same price as the abovementioned ticket, this should ensure you a way better evening in the best seats of your living room with the lights turned down and a bottle of wine. There really isn't anything wrong with this recording. But at full price, why go for this, when you can have nigh-on period performance perfection with McCreesh or Gardiner at the same price?
This is an excellent rendition of Handels Messiah with orchestra same as in Handels lifetime. Don't be tempted to purchase cheaper recording, I did and regretted it ever since and am now saving to purchase a brand new recording.