Gemini - Handel: Messiah / Davis, Battle, Quivar, Aler, Ramey, Et Al

Release Date: 11/11/2008
Label: EMI
Catalog Number: 17645
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Number of Discs: 2

Physical Format:

CD
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
A real symphonic account which respects Handel's original conception.

Not everyone wants a recording of Messiah performed by a period instrument group with relatively small forces. I say that despite the fact that such recordings have become immensely sophisticated in the last twenty years. However if you want a modern instrument Messiah then there are a large variety from which to choose.

Last year the LSO brought out their recording, on their own LSO Live label, taken from concerts conducted by Sir Colin Davis. Davis used a crack chamber choir, Tenebrae, and a group of soloists at home in both period and modern performance. Now EMI have re-issued Sir Andrew Davis's recording of Messiah using Canadian forces.

The recording is based around the Toronto Mendelssohn choir, a large amateur chorus, accompanied by the Toronto Symphony. For soloists Andrew Davis opts for a quartet of distinctly operatic voices, Kathleen Battle, Florence Quivar, John Aler and Samuel Ramey.

The Toronto Symphony gives a surprisingly crisp account. Granted they phrase it pretty much like any other classical music, but as a symphony orchestra you wouldn't expect anything else. There is no element of period performance practice, but still the sound is sharply defined and lively with plenty of air between the notes. Despite the large size of the choir, this is a nimble performance, without the heaviness that can dog earlier symphonic accounts of Messiah. In moments like the Pifa the orchestra turn in a performance of quiet beauty. As usual with symphonic forces, the harpsichord is rather under-powered – so, in loud orchestral moments it either disappears or is reduced to meaningless tinkling.

The chorus, though relatively large, acquit themselves well. There are some moments when the faster passages sound a little muddy, but nothing serious. Though the resulting choral tone is no where near as stunning as that of Tenebrae on the Colin Davis disc, it has the advantage of the weight and depth that a bigger chorus brings. Luckily this is achieved without heaviness or ponderousness. In fact, though the bigger moments are wonderful they don't quite thrill in the sort of large-scale “bells and whistles” way that can happen in some older performances. You don't have to be Beecham to give in to the temptation of turning the Hallelujah Chorus into Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, but this is certainly a temptation Andrew Davis resists.

One of the admirable things about this recording is the way that Andrew Davis threads his way neatly and crisply between a period performance and an overdone, leaden symphonic one. He thus gives us a real symphonic account of the work, but one which respects Handel's original conception.

The soloists are impressive in that they all have the capability to sing Handel's passage-work. Kathleen Battle has a surprisingly rich voice for a coloratura soprano. With its dark tones and characterful vibrato, she never lacks interest and her account is well phrased and highly sophisticated. On the downside she fails to find the purity needed at the requisite places. Quite simply, whatever the type of orchestra used, 'And there were shepherds' demands the pristine tones of an Emma Kirkby, and this Battle fails to deliver.

I was familiar with Battle singing Handel, having long had her recording of Semele; a recording in which I felt that Battle seemed more at home in the style than here. Perhaps the more operatic nature of Semele meant that Battle's operatic background made her more comfortable.

Florence Quivar has a beautiful warm mezzo voice which I began to appreciate only after repeated listening. She brings flexibility of line and nice autumn tones. There are however times when her approach is just a little too 19th century operatic for my taste. In He was despised she does not move me as much as some of the great 20th century mezzo-sopranos and contraltos, but it is a creditable effort none the less.

John Aler has the sort of flexible slim-line tenor voice which enables him to appear in a great variety of recordings. Here he makes a decent stab at Handel's important tenor solos. In the opening he demonstrates a neat pliable tone plus an ability to open out at the requisite moments.

Samuel Ramey is the King on Janet Baker's recording of Ariodante, conducted by Raymond Leppard. On that recording I found his singing efficient, but rather boring. His account of the bass solos on this Messiah has done nothing to change my opinion. His evenness and control in the passage-work is impressive and, given his attractively gravelly bass voice, his singing is remarkably clean. But I want more I'm afraid. In The Trumpet shall sound we just don't thrill the way we ought to.

In general all four soloists ornament quite discreetly. Though Battle indulges in one or two over-the-top flights of fancy and both she and Quivar give us some octave transpositions, which is certainly a solecism too far.

Which Messiah you buy will depend on your tastes. If you simply want a fine account on modern instruments, then you need look no further than Colin Davis and the LSO. If you want a bigger choir and more operatic soloists, then this Andrew Davis version may appeal, especially if the soloists themselves are of interest.

Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International

Works on This Recording
1. Messiah, HWV 56 by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Samuel Ramey (Bass), Kathleen Battle (Soprano), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1741 ; London, England
2. Messiah, HWV 56: Overture by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
3. Messiah, HWV 56: Comfort ye my people by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
4. Messiah, HWV 56: Ev'ry valley shall be exalted by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
5. Messiah, HWV 56: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
6. Messiah, HWV 56: Thus saith the Lord... by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
7. Messiah, HWV 56: But who may abide the day of His coming? by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
8. Messiah, HWV 56: And He shall purify the sons of Levi by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
9. Messiah, HWV 56: Behold a Virgin shall conceive...O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
10. Messiah, HWV 56: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
11. Messiah, HWV 56: For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
12. Messiah, HWV 56: The people that walked in darkness by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
13. Messiah, HWV 56: For unto us a child is born by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
14. Messiah, HWV 56: Pastoral Symphony "Pifa" by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
15. Messiah, HWV 56: There were shepherds abiding in the field by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
16. Messiah, HWV 56: And lo! the angel of the Lord by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
17. Messiah, HWV 56: And the angel said unto them by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
18. Messiah, HWV 56: And suddenly there was with the angel by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
19. Messiah, HWV 56: Glory to God in the highest by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
20. Messiah, HWV 56: Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
21. Messiah, HWV 56: Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
22. Messiah, HWV 56: He shall feed His flock...Come unto Him by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
23. Messiah, HWV 56: His yoke is easy and His burthen is light by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
24. Messiah, HWV 56: Behold the Lamb of God by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
25. Messiah, HWV 56: He was despised and rejected by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
26. Messiah, HWV 56: Surely He hath borne our griefs by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
27. Messiah, HWV 56: And with His stripes we are healed by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
28. Messiah, HWV 56: All we like sheep have gone astray by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
29. Messiah, HWV 56: All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
30. Messiah, HWV 56: He trusted in God, let Him deliver him by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
31. Messiah, HWV 56: Thy rebuke hath broken his heart by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
32. Messiah, HWV 56: Behold and see if there be any sorrow by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
33. Messiah, HWV 56: He was cut off by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
34. Messiah, HWV 56: But thou didst not leave His soul in Hell by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
35. Messiah, HWV 56: Lift up your heads, o ye gates by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
36. Messiah, HWV 56: Unto which of the angels by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
37. Messiah, HWV 56: Let all the angels of God worship Him by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
38. Messiah, HWV 56: Thou art gone up on high by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
39. Messiah, HWV 56: The Lord gave the word by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
40. Messiah, HWV 56: How beautiful are the feet of them by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
41. Messiah, HWV 56: Their sound is gone out into all lands by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
42. Messiah, HWV 56: Why do the nations so furiously rage by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
43. Messiah, HWV 56: Let us break their bonds asunder by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
44. Messiah, HWV 56: He that dwelleth in Heaven...Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
45. Messiah, HWV 56: Hallelujah! by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
46. Messiah, HWV 56: I know that my redeemer liveth by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
47. Messiah, HWV 56: Since by man came death by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
48. Messiah, HWV 56: Behold, I tell you a mystery by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
49. Messiah, HWV 56: The trumpet shall sound by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
50. Messiah, HWV 56: Then shall be brought to pass...O Death, where is thy sting?...But thanks be to God by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
51. Messiah, HWV 56: If God be for us who can be against us? by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
52. Messiah, HWV 56: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain by George Frideric Handel
Performer: John Aler (Tenor), Florence Quivar (Alto)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
53. Messiah, HWV 56: The trumpet shall sound by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: 1742 ; London, England
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