Notes and Editorial Reviews
The re-release of Richard Westenberg and Musica Sacra's 1981 recording of Handel's 'Messiah' could not come at a more welcome time. There are many versions of Handel's score; Handel himself used at least 43 versions of 15 different solo numbers in performances that followed the Dublin premiere. This has given rise to a wise range of readings of this oratorio, from perfectly sterile period renderings to overblown and heavily mounted affairs. Choosing quality over quantity, Westenberg limits his chorus to the size of Handel's 29 and his orchestra comparably. Choosing to emphasize the vocal ties to the Italian operatic tradition that informs this work (a tradition that fitted an aria to a singer like glove to a hand), he works out, with his singers, an always judicious ornamentation to the solo numbers. And choosing to remain faithful to Italian opera's sense of dramatic pacing, he scrupulously attends to the movement within numbers and from number to number, an aspect of performance that is often given short shrift by conductors of this work. Perhaps most important of all, Westenberg has assembled a wonderful cast of singers, from Judith Blegen's bright and clean soprano to John Cheek's thrilling and resonant bass.