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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Every year at this time I'm asked about my favorite recording of Handel's Messiah and evey year I change my mind and every year I realize that my tastes don't mature, they seem to get quirkier. Of course, I can't have one favorite. I know every word and every note and so do you. These days I'm trying to listen to one Beethoven string quartet every morning, because I don't know the quartets or much chamber music at all, but as I continue to read and be fascinated by studies of music and the brain, I realize that these works define "making order out of chaos." But Messiah, comforting in its familiarty, I finds always has something new to offer. It might be helpful that no authentic final version exists. Handel used cut and paste, transpositions and added and delted arias to accomodate different singers appearing in his works. A generation later, Mozart reorchestrated the work to a German text. A century after that, Eugeen Goosens expanded the orchestration and put in instruments Handel never heard of. Messiah became a delightful noisy circus, pehpas befitting what we know of Handel's florid personality.

That said.

I'm commenting on a few sets by conductor

CHRISOTPHER HOGWOOD-- I threw this across the room when I first heard the LPS in college. Google around and you'll find this to be the first choice for a lot of people. Boy sopranos, countertenors, vibratoless strings, vibratoless sopranos! A bunch of reedy, anemic nincompoops. That's what I thought then. Now I think its beautful. You get to hear every word and every note and the fusion of the two, even in-especally in- the fast passages. Emma Kirkby's white tone sounded like a whistle to me, but now I appreciate the fine musicianship.
This would never be my only recording of Messiah.
I lack taste. But I'm older now, so the point of its music making is a comfort!

COLIN DAVIS #1 (I haven't heard his new version) This is about 35 yrs old, and was one of the first to really examine playing Messiah with smaller forces, but there is some vibrato, and there's nice warmth to the strings. Heather Harper, Alexander Young
and John Shirley-Quirk are first class soloists, and nicely balanced (see Bonynge below). This was the recording of choicee for a long time unitl displaced by the Hogwood, and the "rivalry" between the two of them helped start the HIP or Historically Informed Performance (Oy) Wars of the early 1970s. If you can find this, get it.

THOMAS BEECHAM. Ah, Sir Thomas Beecham! Musiccologists on five continents shudder in horror. Bbut this, like porn or pizza, is the quintessential Guilty Pleasure. Saxophones, harps, ballsy operatic soloists,m stately speeds, it is exactly how Messaih would NEVER be peformed like this today. It's a big marching band circus and it is wonderful. Great fun. And the soloists, led by Jon Vickers thank you very much, are not to be sneezed at. The drama of Vickers'"Comfort Ye My People" is unequaled. Go buy this, brown paper bag and all.

RICHARD BONYNGE. A party favorite Lets begin with the comedy of it. He uses a French Candaian mezzo soloist who is the most bizarre singer on record. She sings with "hot potato mouth" so there's no diction, and by Jesus doesn't she manage to go out of tune not phrase by phrase but on the same note at the same time! I thought that was physically impossible. But nope, this lady takes the prize. Her performance makes this a party disc. That's a shame because I listen to it all the itme and love it. It's over ornamented, yes-and the unfortunate Vienese tenor sings Com-FART ye my people, but the choral work is snappy. EXCEPT for this absurd retard in the middle of the Hallelujah Chorus. I like Tom Krause very much. His "The people that walked in darkness" is dramatic and moving.
And listen, admit it, who wouldn't want to hear Dame Joan Sutherland toss off Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion. When she sings "Shout! O daughter of Jersualem" well yes by Christ! Bonynge keeps a bracing momentum making you want to replay this recording. But the mezzo had to be sleeping with SOMEBODY!

1 comment:

Kathy Boyce said...

I have the Beecham too, and like it a lot - I also have a recording by Mackerras sung in German, which certainly sounds strange after hearing it and singing it in English all these years, and a third by my chorus - hmmm .... I wonder which one I'll pick for tomorrow?

Happy holidays!