Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is an audio-only (i.e., with no video content) Blu-ray disc playable only on Blu-ray players.
Sir Colin Davis's classic recording of Handel's great oratorio is now available for the first time in the uncompressed sound of Blu-ray Audio.
Colin Davis, cond; Heather Harper (sop); Helen Watts (alt); John Wakefield (ten); John Shirley-Quirk (bs); London SO & Ch
002894785396 (Blu-ray Audio: 144:03)
Recordings and performances of Handel’s
have used just about every conceivable combination of performing forces, ranging from the somewhat infamous Thomas Beecham recording originally released on the ultra-lavish RCA Soria series (using the equally lavish Eugene Goosens orchestration, calling for a full modern symphony orchestra complete with big brass, cymbals, and triangles), to numerous recent interpretations employing a small ensemble of period instruments frequently and rather pompously declared by their adherents to be historically informed, implying that there is no other way to go. There is no denying that modern critical tastes have turned decidedly in favor of small ensembles and period instruments, but I am not at all sure that modern audiences share the critical enthusiasm for the so-called enhanced clarity achieved by them.
Colin Davis has made several recordings of
, but this highly acclaimed 1966 release originally defined his preferred interpretive approach, employing an appropriately scaled, moderate sized chorus and orchestra of modern instruments with tasteful ornamentation. His soloists (especially Heather Harper and Helen Watts) are just about ideal. Everything is as smooth as silk, and perhaps just a little too sedate. There are no rough edges. Georg Solti in his more recent Decca recording not surprisingly secures a brighter and more rhythmically incisive sound with modern instruments (about 40 members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), but Davis’s soloists are generally preferable.
This recording was originally released by Philips. The typical tendency toward soft instrumental edges on Philips only magnified the difference between Davis’s interpretation and the increased clarity and sharper edges of period instruments. This Blu-ray audio disc does tighten the edges without being particularly harsh. This is helpful in overcoming the complaint that Davis’s modern instrument sonority is too dense and congested. Balances between chorus, soloists, and orchestra are quite good. There is a faint and undesirable suggestion of a metallic halo sometimes surrounding the instruments and voices.
As a modern instruments
performance, this has always ranked with the best. If that is your preference, this is easily recommended, but don’t expect Blu-ray audio to make a sonic spectacular out of it.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
Works on This Recording
Messiah, HWV 56 by George Frideric Handel
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Helen Watts (Alto),
John Shirley-Quirk (Bass),
John Wakefield (Tenor)
Sir Colin Davis
London Symphony Chorus,
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1741; London, England
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