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Handel: Messiah / Cleobury, Dawson, Summers [2 Cds + Dvd]

Release Date: 04/19/2011 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 94127  
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Alastair MilesLynne DawsonHilary SummersJohn Mark Ainsley
Conductor:  Stephen Cleobury
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brandenburg ConsortCambridge King's College Choir
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Return to this with pleasure.

Handel premiered Messiah in Dublin with a chorus of men and boys with a female soprano and contralto soloists – a combination that he generally stuck to. On one occasion he did in fact use boy trebles as soloists and when he had a castrato available, he was added to the line-up. Interestingly Handel never used an alto castrato for He was despised and the other main alto solos, always preferring a woman.

This recording was made in 1993 and provides a relatively rare outing on disc for Handel’s preferred mixture of voices. Despite opting for King's College, Cambridge forces, rather interestingly this was made not at King's but at Pieterskerk in Leiden. The
Read more advantage is that we get a more precise, closer recording than would have been possible in the generous King's Chapel acoustic.

The soloists are a well chosen, nicely balanced group all young at the time of recording.

Cleobury opted for the traditional version of Messiah. Though Handel never produced a final definitive edition, the fact that it was performed annually at the Foundling Hospital meant that a tradition developed. That said, Handel's tendency to tinker with pieces at each performance means that we have a generous variety of possibilities and Cleobury's choice is very much the most conservative one.

John Mark Ainsley makes an admirable tenor soloist, with a combination of a lovely sense of line and certain muscularity. Hilary Summers is quite a cool alto soloist, her wonderfully straight tone suits Handel's music well, but her performance can lack the warmth that some mezzos bring to the role. Even so said, I found her account of He was despised profoundly moving.

Bass Alistair Miles displays a fine fluency with Handelian fioriture without any of the associated bluster which can trouble singers in this role. Lynne Dawson has a richly vibrant voice and is highly familiar in this repertoire. She is beautifully fluent, though in her opening solos I would have preferred less vibrancy and more cool purity.

All the soloists are quite generous with their ornamentation, perhaps a little too generous. I favour relatively simple ornaments in the oratorios, though this is only a personal preference.

The choir are on strong form, singing crisply and fluently. Though individual movements are impressive, the performance lacks a sense of cumulative drama. One of the brilliant novelties of Messiah is the way Handel uses the chorus to propel the narrative. This sense of drama is missing. Cleobury and his forces present us with a series of fine moments, not an unfolding drama.

One review of the original 1993 disc was troubled by the discrepancy between Cleobury's rather traditional style and the period manners of the Brandenburg Consort. This was not a problem for me and I enjoyed the combination of the period band with the cool sound of the all-male choir.

The set is a super budget one, so there is no libretto included; this isn't much of a problem with a work as familiar as Messiah and the libretto is available to download on the Brilliant web-site.

One curiosity of this Brilliant Classics set is that it includes both the CD recording and the DVD, so that you get the performance twice. The DVD is inevitably rather static and quite period in style and looks. Rembrandt etchings are used to illustrate moments from the story, though this is done in a very limited way.

In an ideal world, if you wanted a recording of Messiah with a choir of men and boys, then I would recommend Christopher Hogwood's ground-breaking recording. But Brilliant's prices are highly affordable and any faults that this recording may have are ones that I could happily live with. Whilst the set would not be a library choice, I would welcome it onto my shelves and return to it with pleasure.

-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Messiah, HWV 56 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Alastair Miles (Bass), Lynne Dawson (Soprano), Hilary Summers (Alto),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor)
Conductor:  Stephen Cleobury
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brandenburg Consort,  Cambridge King's College Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1741; London, England 
Date of Recording: 1994 
Venue:  Live  St. Peter's Church, Leiden, Netherlands 
Length: 134 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Language: English 

Sound Samples

Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Symphony
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Comfort ye my people (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Ev'ry valley shall be exalted (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Thus saith the Lord of Hosts (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: But who may abide the day of His coming (Alto)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: And He shall purify (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Behold, a virgin shall conceive (Alto)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Alto, Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: For behold, darkness shall cover the earth (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: The people that walked in darkness (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: For unto us a child is born (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: There were shepards (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: And the angel said unto them (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: And suddenly there was with the angel (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Glory to God in the highest (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: Then shall the eyes of the blind be open'd (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: He shall feed His flock like a shepherd (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part I: His yoke is easy, his burthen is light (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Behold, The Lamb of God (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: He was despised (Alto)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Surely, He hath borne our griefs (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: And with His stripes we are healed (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: All we like sheep have gone astray (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Recitative: All they that see Him (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: He trusted in God (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Thy rebuke hath broken His heart (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Behold, and see if there be any sorrow (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: He was cut off out of the land of the living (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Lift up your heads, O ye gates (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Unto which of the Angels (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Let all the angels of God worship Him (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Thou art gone up on high (Alto)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: The Lord gave the word (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: How beautiful are the feet (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Their sound is gone out into all lands (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Why do the nations so furiously rage together (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Let us break their bonds asunder (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: He that dwelleth in heaven (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Thou shalt break them (Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part II: Hallelujah (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: I know that my redeemer liveth (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: Since by man came death (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: Behold, I tell you a mystery (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: The trumpet shall sound (Bass)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: Then shall be brought to pass the saying (Alto)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: O death, where is thy sting (Alto, Tenor)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: But thanks be to God (Chorus)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: If God be for us (Soprano)
Messiah, HWV 56: Part III: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain ... Amen (Chorus)

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