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Handel: Messiah / Higginbottom, AAM, Oxford New College Choir


Release Date: 10/31/2006 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570131   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Robert BrooksOtta JonesHenry JenkinsonDavid Blackadder,   ... 
Conductor:  Edward Higginbottom
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of Ancient MusicOxford New College Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 22 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

If Handel were alive today, he'd still be revising Messiah--it's the nature of this remarkable work, and it was the nature of its very practical, theatre-savvy composer. The various "official" performing versions and hybrids, along with alternate arias and added choruses, have given modern choirs a wealth of choices for their own performances, including license to just cobble together a version to suit the needs of the available forces--just as Handel would have done. This recording claims to offer "the only modern account of Handel's unique London performances in April and May 1751, when he used [boy] treble voices for choruses and arias." Conductor Edward Higginbottom can't find an explanation for that Read more decision, but just the same he selected three boys from his excellent choir to help replicate the event. Indeed, of all the British chapel, cathedral, and university-based choirs, Higginbottom's Choir of New College Oxford always has cultivated the most ingratiatingly warm, clear, full-bodied, centered treble tone, complemented by robust basses and rich-colored middle voices--which is why his is the ideal group to bring this particular Messiah setting to disc.


Of course, for the most part, the arias, recits, and choruses are the same here as for any other complete Messiah performance; variations occur in the use of countertenor rather than female alto, and in the several numbers where a treble sings instead of the usual female soprano. And the three trebles who share the work here are fabulous; nothing is lost in expression or technique, and there's something to be said for their pure, completely unmannered style in such hugely familiar music, so often overwrought and excessively ornamented. And speaking of ornaments, Higginbottom doesn't allow the "all-about-me" kind of decoration from his soloists that renders many performances different but ultimately irritating; instead the ornamenting is tasteful and artful.


Higginbottom's command of the orchestra also is impressive; he has a firm grasp of the larger picture of the oratorio, and consequently makes decisions regarding pacing that just "feel" right. It's interesting that among the vast volumes of writing about Messiah, almost no one ever discusses tempo--and yet it's tempo more than anything that determines a successful performance. The current "speed for speed's sake" obsession of some conductors simply ruins choruses such as "And He shall purify", "His yoke is easy", and "All we like sheep", and arias like "Rejoice greatly"--but here we are treated to mostly sensible (but certainly not slow!) tempos that properly capture the essential rhythmic and melodic--and textual--aspects of a given movement (except for Higginbottom's insanely fast "All we like sheep", which the choir almost pulls off!). The lively movements dance; the more reflective and solemn ones are appropriately weighty or delicate as required. In other words, this is a very intelligent, articulate, and consummately musical--as well as entertaining--Messiah.


The choir is as good as any you'll hear in this music, and the soloists--none of them big names, but all experts in this repertoire--couldn't be more ideally chosen. There are many scintillating moments--including the chorus "For unto us a Child is born", which has never been more excitingly rendered on a recording (at least among the two-dozen-plus sets in my collection)--and there are some occasions, the "Hallelujah" chorus for one, where the choir is covered just a little more than we'd like by the exuberant orchestra.


Being a very critical Messiah observer, I was pleasantly surprised by this "treble"-voice version. In fact, along with the reference recordings above, it's becoming one of my favorites, simply because it renders this beloved and time-worn work with respect for its innate structural and expositional integrity--no fancy, quirky self-indulgences, no artificial additives, just pure, unprocessed, organic Handel. A pleasure!
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Messiah, HWV 56 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Robert Brooks (Treble), Otta Jones (Treble), Henry Jenkinson (Treble),
David Blackadder (Trumpet), Toby Spence (Tenor), Iestyn Davies (Countertenor),
Eamonn Dougan (Bass)
Conductor:  Edward Higginbottom
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of Ancient Music,  Oxford New College Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1741; London, England 
Venue:  St John's, Smith Square, London, England 
Length: 142 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Version: 1751
St John's, Smith Square, London, England (01/03/2006 - 01/08/2006) 

Sound Samples

Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Sinfonia
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Accompanied recitative: Comfort ye, my people (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Aria: Every valley shall be exalted (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Chorus: And the glory of the Lord
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Accompanied recitative: Thus saith the Lord of Hosts (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Aria: But who may abide the day of His coming (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Chorus: And He shall purify
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Recitative: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Aria and Chorus: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Accompanied recitative: For behold, darkness shall cover the earth (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Aria: The people that walked in darkness (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Chorus: For unto us a Child is born
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Pifa
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Accompanied recitative: There were shepherds abiding in the field (Trebles)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Chorus: Glory to God in the highest
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Aria: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Recitative: Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Aria: He shall feed His flock like a shepherd (Countertenor, Treble)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part I: Chorus: His yoke is easy, His burthen is light
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: Behold, the Lamb of God
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Aria: He was despised and rejected of men (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: And with His stripes we are healed
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: All we like sheep have gone astray
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Accompanied recitative: All they that see Him, laugh Him to scorn (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: He trusted in God that He would deliver Him
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Accompanied recitative: Thy rebuke hath broken His heart (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Aria: Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Accompanied recitative: He was cut off out of the land of the living (Treble)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Aria: But thou didst not leave His soul in hell (Treble)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: Lift up your heads, O ye gates
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Recitative: Unto which of the angels said He at any time (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: Let all the angels of God worship Him
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Aria: Thou art gone up on high (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: The Lord gave the word
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Aria: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace (Treble)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: Their sound is gone out into all lands
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Aria: Why do the nations so furiously rage together (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: Let us break their bonds asunder
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Recitative: He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Aria: Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part II: Chorus: Hallelujah
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Aria: I know that my redeemer liveth (Treble)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Chorus: Since by man came death
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Accompanied recitative: Behold, I tell you a mystery (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Aria: The trumpet shall sound (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Recitative: Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Duet: O death, where is thy sting (Countertenor and Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Chorus: But thanks be to God
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Aria: If God is for us, who can be against us (Countertenor)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Chorus: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
Messiah, HWV 56 (1751 Version): Part III: Chorus: Amen

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