GMDD 7112/13 – Messiah by Handel

The Choir and Orchestra of Pro Christe, Timothy Dean – Conductor, Jenifer Smith & Helen Kuchared – Soprano, Linda Finnie – Mezzo-Soprano, Neil Mackie – Tenor, Rodney Macann – Bass-Baritone

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Classic FM

Today Christmas and Messiah an; synonymous but Handel’s (1685-1759) main concern prior to composing it was whether it would restore his flagging reputation (see Hall of Fame, Page 106). Yet when he started writing, it certainly seems Handel was touched by a divine hand: ‘I did think I did see all Heaven before me,’ he claimed. Written for bass and trumpet obbligato, ‘The trumpet shall sound’ is the work’s last important aria.

Classic FM

Pro Christa Choir and Orchestra/Timothy Dean
Written in three parts that depict the coming of Christ, His days on earth and His resurrection, Handel’s divinely inspired masterpiece represents the composer at the height of his genius. Taken from the first part, “And the glory” is a strong and uplifting chorus that expresses the beauty of the Lord, which ‘shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together’. The chorus is a natural conclusion to the two numbers preceding it – the tenor recitative Comfort ye my people and the aria that follows, Ev’ry valley.

American Record Guide: Vol 59 No2 March April 96

Still recovering from my Messiah-glutted duties for the Nov/Dec Handel Overview, I might not be the likeliest person to shout “Hallelujah” at the prospect of yet another recording of it. Few of these soloists were familiar to me, and I’d never heard of this ensemble or conductor. Nor did the packaging encourage high hopes: full text is given, but the (multilingual) notes have little musical information.
Nevertheless, this set proved a pleasant surprise. With explanations lacking, I would guess that essentially the Watkins Shaw edition is employed: ‘But who may abide’ is given to soprano; and in Part II the variant numbers ‘Unto which of the angels’ (tenor recitative), ‘Let all the angels’ (chorus) and ‘Thou art gone up’ (soprano air) are interpolated in the otherwise standard sequence. A Handel-sized orchestra plays in modern style with discreet continuo work from harpsichord and organ and some elegant solo trumpet work in ‘The trumpet shall sound’. The soloists all have light and apt voices, and deliver their assignments deftly, incorporating some minimal embellishments – if I had to pick favorites, they would be Macann, for his expressive baritone singing, and Finnie, whose expressive mezzo-alto work could well approximate the style that Handel’s Mrs Cibber brought to the premiere.
But the outstanding moments come in the choral sections, where Dean seems to have concentrated his interpretative thinking. I would guess that the chorus numbers in the 20s – Dean’s tempos can sometimes be a little pushed, and there are moments when the choristers (and some of the string players, too) sound strained to keep up. But they are plainly carefully picked pros, and in general, they deliver beautifully balanced singing with superb clarity of part-writing – Dean draws from them a committed intensity of expression, producing one choral movement after another of unusual drama urgency, lilt, or energy. And all this is in close, full-blooded, very realistic sound.
Given the competition, I can’t put this at the top of my list but in the ranking I suggested in the Overview I would be tempted to place this between Solti and Somary, if only out of respect for Dean’ s intelligent musicianship and genuine interpretative profile. To put it another way, jaded though I be, I was surprised to find I really (gulp!) enjoyed listening to the old war-horse in this recording.