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Handel: Messiah / Christophers, Sampson, Padmore, The Sixteen

Release Date: 09/09/2008 
Label:  Coro   Catalog #: 16062   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Mark PadmoreCarolyn SampsonChristopher PurvesCatherine Wyn-Rogers
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Messiah & Harry Christophers, cond; Carolyn Sampson (sop); Catherine Wyn-Rogers (alt); Mark Padmore (ten); Christopher Purves (bar); The Sixteen Ch & O (period instruments) CORO 16062 (3 CDs: 200:13 Text and Translation)

& Sampler of Handel selections from seven other Coro CDs

Harry Christophers here records Read more style="font-style:italic">Messiah for the second time. While it very often happens that a second recording is less successful than the first one, and this has been especially true of Messiah recordings, Christophers has succeeded in making a better recording the second time around.

The promotional material accompanying this recording states that Christophers’s “interpretation has changed and developed and this new recording demonstrates an accomplished expertise, honed over the past 23 years.” I do not find a large difference between the earlier recording and this one in terms of interpretation. Tempos and the overall shape of the score are not much changed. One area where Christophers has improved, however, is in period practice. In his previous recording, the organ was used as the only continuo keyboard for the entire work, which is simply wrong. Here, the harpsichord is used for most recitatives and arias, and in the choruses as well.

Because of Handel’s many revivals of Messiah , there are numerous alternative versions of some pieces. Christophers makes two changes from his previous effort, both in part I. In his first recording, he used the short version of the Pifa (pastoral symphony); here he uses the longer version. For the soprano aria “Rejoice greatly,” Christophers had used the early version in 12/8, which Handel had replaced from 1749 onward with a version in 4/4. For the new recording, Christophers uses the later version.

The casts of singers for the two recordings are basically equal in honor, with one improvement. In his first recording, Christophers had split the music for alto between the delightful Catherine Denley and the mediocre countertenor David James. The new recording uses only four soloists, all excellent.

The third disc presents excerpts from various recordings of The Sixteen that have been reissued on Coro. While they make pleasant listening, they will not be anyone’s reason for purchasing this recording, and all of these works have received better recordings elsewhere.

Aside from Christophers’s two recordings, I have five other period–instrument recordings in my collection. Four, Hogwood, Cleobury, Harnoncourt 2 (Sony), and Pinnock, make choices similar to Christophers’s from among Handel’s later alternative versions of various numbers, and none is clearly superior to the others. The fifth, McGegan, is valuable as a supplement because it presents many, but not all, of the possible alternatives, allowing the listener to reconstruct nine separate performing versions of Messiah . Unfortunately, the performance itself is disappointing, so it cannot be recommended as a primary recording. Of recordings on modern instruments, Colin Davis’s pioneering effort on Philips has held up well. But the recording I return to most often is Neville Marriner’s first recording, on Decca, which is valuable not only for its excellent performance but also because it is based on the first London performance and presents many interesting variant readings. For a period–instrument performance, this recording from Christophers is as good as any I have heard, and I highly recommend it.

FANFARE: Ron Salemi
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Works on This Recording

Messiah, HWV 56 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Mark Padmore (Tenor), Carolyn Sampson (Soprano), Christopher Purves (Bass),
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Alto)
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1741; London, England 

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