Handel: Messiah

Floral design

Eboracum Baroque, Chris Parsons
132:08 (2 CDs in a card triptych)
1 98000 82190 6

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Whenever I am presented with a new version of a frequently-recorded work such as Messiah, my first question has to be what does this performance add to the body of existing recordings? After I have expressed my admiration for this project, conducted under the most difficult pandemic conditions and representative of the sort of ‘can-do’ attitude which has seen us through the worst of Covid restrictions, I have to report that this recording doesn’t really add much at all. Although its virtues are several, the problems with it are – I fear – predominant. It is a reduced-forces performance (the oboes are dropped and everything else is one-to-a-part), by its own admission unlike any performance from Handel’s time, providing us with what the performers hope will be ‘an exciting take on Handel’s masterpiece’. While the singing of a line-up of young soloists, who double as chorus, is generally perfectly presentable and the instrumental playing is effectively detailed, the latter is underpowered and the former is undistinguished – and neither of these features is adequate in a field of superb performances. While audiences would have been forgiving of the occasional blurring due to social distancing in a live performance, this is harder to condone or live with in a recording. Problems are compounded with the ‘popping’ of a mic in several of the choral tracks. I wanted to be more positive about this crowd-funded recording by what is clearly an enterprising and excitingly talented young ensemble out of York University, but perhaps pressing ahead with a recording of an established classic in these far from conducive conditions was a mistake.

D. James Ross