Handel: Messiah

Julia Doyle, Tim Mead, Thomas Hobbs, Roderick Williams, RIAS Kammerchor Berlin, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Justin Doyle
134:30 (2 CDs)
Pentatone PTC 5186 853

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This is a beautifully crisp and clear account of the iconic Dublin 1742 Messiah with a fine period-instrument ensemble in the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, a fine choir in the RIAS Kammerchor and a stellar line-up of soloists and a sensitive and conductor. The pacing of the music is to my mind perfect, the English soloists decorate their da capos with imagination and authenticity, the smallish orchestral forces are seriously impressive (I love the inclusion of a lute in the continuo section and a contrabassoon in the orchestra, but would like to have read some sort of justification) and the choir sing with exemplary definition and clarity. So what is not to like? Well, let me tell you – inexplicably the entire programme note consists of a spurious and frankly silly dialogue between Handel (‘Freddie’) and his librettist, Jennings. I have to admit to hating the trend towards programme notes as dialogues between conductor and expert, or among performers, but surely a makey-uppy chat between composer and librettist featuring the phrase ‘Gladly. But after that we’ll keep arguing. Deal, Freddie?’ strikes an all-time low. Whose appalling idea was this? This shocker is compounded by the disrespect of including no biographical details about the soloists or the conductor – the ubiquitous and superb Roddy Williams requires no introduction, but the others do, and it is a great shame that they are denied the profile they deserve. I would suggest that you buy this recording, whose virtues are many, and particularly that you google the soloists and conductor, but please tear out the fortunately easily detachable programme note and throw it away before it annoys you as much as it did me!

D. James Ross

One reply on “Handel: Messiah”

Hear, hear!! I too am fed up with programme non-notes – let’s keep calling them out on EMR!! I’m also fed up with ‘speculative’ continuo instrumentation. Let’s keep the pressure on there too.

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