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The 1751 version of Handel's 'Messiah',
reviewed by

Naxos    8.570131-32

Handel: Messiah (1751 version). © 2006 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Handel completed Messiah in September 1741 and its first performance took place seven months later in Dublin. Handel directed performances in London's Covent Garden and King's Theatre in 1743 and 1745, and in 1749 he established annual performances at the end of his Lent oratorio season, making alterations and revisions each time. For reasons not now clear, the performances in April and May 1751 were given with treble voices in the chorus and a countertenor soloist throughout, and this is a valuable first recording of that version.

Edward Higgginbottom's performance has drawn on the same components, bringing to us the clarity and precision of the Choir of New College Oxford and the Academy of Ancient Music in a performance as exciting as could be obtained from these authentic resources. From the first chorus, the freshness of sound is apparent and agreeable [listen -- CD1 track 4, 0:00-0:44]. There are three treble soloists. Otta Jones takes He shall feed his flock with some delightfully managed ornamentation [listen -- CD1 track 18, 0:18-1:20]. Robert Brooks shares the recitatives There were shepherds with Henry Jenkinson who gives fine performances of But thou didst not leave His soul and one of the work's highlights, I know that my redeemer liveth [listen -- CD2 track 22, 0:35-2:15].

The men soloists are superb -- countertenor Iestyn Davies, tenor Toby Spence and bass Eamonn Dougan who sings the extended version of Why do the nations which, though exhilarating, it is probable Handel never wished to use, followed at once by the bright staccato precision of the chorus Let us break their bonds [listen -- CD2 track 17, 2:03 to track 18, 0:36].

It is above all the clear vividness of the treble and alto chorus sections and the lightness of not only tenors and basses but also of Higginbottom's entire approach, that make this a most admirable recording of a work that can become jaded when in thrall to routine convention [listen -- CD2 track 31, 0:00-1:12].

Copyright © 11 January 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


Handel: Messiah (1751 Version)

8.570131-32 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE (2 CDs) 69'14"/73'05" - TT 142'19" 2006 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Henry Jenkinson, treble; Otta Jones, treble; Robert Brooks, treble; Iestyn Davies countertenor; Toby Spence, tenor; Eamonn Dougan, bass; Academy of Ancient Music; Choir of New College Oxford; Edward Higginbottom, conductor

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): Messiah (1751 version)


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews