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Handel: Messiah

Handel: Messiah

4.5 2
by Christine Schäfer
Count on Nikolaus Harnoncourt to challenge convention and revitalize even the best-known repertoire. This 2005 recording of Messiah -- the conductor's second of Handel's great oratorio -- certainly scores on that account. Those reared on the interpretations of period-instrument standard bearers like John Eliot Gardiner and


Count on Nikolaus Harnoncourt to challenge convention and revitalize even the best-known repertoire. This 2005 recording of Messiah -- the conductor's second of Handel's great oratorio -- certainly scores on that account. Those reared on the interpretations of period-instrument standard bearers like John Eliot Gardiner and Christopher Hogwood may be taken aback at moments: the easygoing tempo of the chorus "For Unto Us a Child Is Born," for instance. Yet Harnoncourt has clearly thought deeply about Messiah, and as dramatic musical storytelling, his version is one of the most compelling in the catalog. Of the four soloists, bass Gerald Finley is the standout star; his "Thus Sayeth the Lord" has the attention-grabbing authority of an old-time revival preacher, and he delivers a hair-raising "The Trumpet Shall Sound" (although the identity of the solo trumpeter -- as well as the other orchestral players -- is lamentably omitted from the booklet). For the all-important choruses, Harnoncourt has reexamined Handel's manuscripts and restored rhythmic indications missing in printed editions; the result is a pleasing flexibility in several numbers ("And the Glory of the Lord" in particular). At other points, Handel's clues lead the conductor to pare down the orchestra, sometimes to just one-on-a-part. These enhancements and others add up to a Messiah with a difference.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times - Anthony Tommasini
One of the most welcome releases of the year.... What makes this recording so satisfying is the warmth, serenity and pliant lyricism of the performance. We have come to expect fleet tempos from the early-music movement. If anything, Mr. Harnoncourt's tempos, over all, are spacious.... [A] revelatory recording.
The New Yorker - Russell Platt
This is a "Messiah" in the spirit of the Bach Passions -- a sober and serious affair.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Sarah Bryan Miller
[Grade: B] This is a lovely version of Handel's great oratorio "Messiah" in almost every respect.

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Related Subjects


  1. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56

    1. Part 1. No. 1. Sinfony. Grave - Allegro moderato  (03:19)
    2. Part 2. No. 21. Chorus. Surely he hath borne our griefs  (02:02)
    3. Part 1. No. 2. Accompagnato. Comfort ye my people  (03:03)
    4. Part 2. No. 22. Chorus. And with His stripes we are healed  (01:49)
    5. Part 1. No. 3. Air. Ev'ry valley shall be exalted  (03:48)
    6. Part 2. No. 23. Chorus. All we like sheep have gone astray  (03:39)
    7. Part 1. No. 4. Chorus. And the glory of the Lord  (02:32)
    8. Part 2. No. 24. Accompagnato. All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn  (00:43)
    9. Part 1. No. 5. Accompagnato. Thus saith the Lord  (01:33)
    10. Part 2. No. 25. Chorus. He trusted in God  (02:20)
    11. Part 1. No. 6. Air. But who may abide the day of His coming  (04:08)
    12. Part 2. No. 26. Accompagnato. Thy rebuke hath broken His heart  (01:38)
    13. Part 1. No. 7. Chorus. And He shall purify / Recitative. Behold, a virgin shall conceive  (03:18)
    14. Part 2. No. 27. Arioso. Behold, and see if there be any sorrow  (01:18)
    15. Part 1. No. 8. Air. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion  (05:48)
    16. Part 2. No. 28. Accompagnato. He was cut off out of the land of the living  (00:22)
    17. Part 1. No. 9. Accompagnato. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth  (01:53)
    18. Part 2. No. 29. Air. But Thou didst not leave  (02:17)
    19. Part 1. No. 10. Air. The people that walked in darkness  (03:24)
    20. Part 2. No. 30. Chorus. Lift up your heads, O ye gates / Recitative. Unto which of the angels  (03:21)
    21. Part 1. No. 11. Chorus. For unto us a Child is born  (04:53)
    22. Part 2. No. 31. Chorus. Let all the angels of God worship Him  (01:36)
    23. Part 1. No. 12. Pifa / Recitative. There were shepherds  (01:04)
    24. Part 2. No. 32. Air. Thou aret gone up on high  (03:09)
    25. Part 1. No. 13. Accompagnato. And lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them / Recitative. And the an  (01:03)
    26. Part 2. No. 33. Chorus. The Lord gave the word  (01:16)
    27. Part 1. No. 14. Accompagnato. And suddenly there was with the angel  (00:15)
    28. Part 2. No. 34a. Air. How beautiful are the feet  (02:00)
    29. Part 1. No. 15. Chorus. Glory to God in the highest  (02:12)
    30. Part 2. No. 35a. Chorus. Their sound is gone out  (01:19)
    31. Part 1. No. 16. Air. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion / Recitative. Then shall the eyes of the b  (05:16)
    32. Part 2. No. 36. Air. Why do the nations so furiously rage together?  (02:56)
    33. Part 1. No. 17. Duet. He shall feed His flock  (05:33)
    34. Part 2. No. 37. Chorus. Let us break their bonds asunder / Recitative. He that dwelleth in Heaven  (01:58)
    35. Part 1. No. 18. Chorus. His yoke is easy  (02:59)
    36. Part 2. No. 38. Air. Thou shalt break them  (02:04)
    37. Part 2. No. 19. Chorus. Behold the Lamb of God  (02:47)
    38. Part 2. No. 39. Chorus. Hallelujah!  (04:05)
    39. Part 2. No. 20. Air. He was despised  (10:43)
    40. Part 3. No. 40. Air. I know that my Redeemer liveth  (05:57)
    41. Part 3. No. 41. Chorus. Since by man came death  (01:46)
    42. Part 3. No. 42. Accompagnato. Behold, I tell you a mystery  (00:41)
    43. Part 3. No. 43. Air. The trumpet shall sound / Recitative. Then shall be brought to pass  (08:36)
    44. Part 3. No. 44. Duet. O death, where is thy sting?  (00:58)
    45. Part 3. No. 45. Chorus. But thanks be to God  (02:08)
    46. Part 3. No. 46. Air. If God be for us  (04:46)
    47. Part 3. No. 47. Chorus. Worthy is the Lamb  (06:40)

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Handel: Messiah 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an impulse buy at B & N, I decided to buy a Messiah CD. Unfortunately, probably due to the holiday season, there were none in the store listed in the computer and only two on the shelf--one was the London Symphony with a conductor I didn't recognize and the other was this version by Harnancourt, of whom I also was unfamiliar. I sampled both and found each with good qualities, but was very much impressed by the bass Gerald Finley. So I purchased the Harnancourt version. Here are some things that I have noticed, after listening to the CD once: Finley indeed does not dissappoint. I love the clarity of his diction and intonation. Further, I love that he, while seeming to capture every intricate note, seems to have subsumed the intricate runs and trills, causing us to listen to the actual lyrics of the piece. This characteristic seems to be common with all the soloists. The message and spirit seem to overrule over the mechanics of the work. Christine Schafer has a wonderful clarity and "creaminess" to her voice. There is very little edge, providing a very pure, lovely sound. I would like to hear more of her. Intricate arias seem effortless to her. Anna Larsson has a very rich, true contralto voice. There is no thickness or wobbliness. You can imagine some of her parts being sung by a castrato in old times, since she brings in a lot of power. Michael Schrade also provides a seemingly effortless performance. He seems also to humanize his roles, emphacising the words, de-emphacising the viruousity of the long cadences and runs. I especially liked the pianissimo passages that he did with great care. The conductor provided us with a very different Messiah than I have ever heard, but one that could be my favorite. There is a minimum of ostentation and showiness, with a lot of care given to dynamics. I was very surprised and pleased by the gentle opening of the Hallelujah chorus. Not until the tympanies came in did he bring in the punch. Many of the tempos are very crisp, (some speedier than I prefer) but they were not done at the sacrifice of good musicianship and clarity of the harmonies and counterpoint. On the whole, this is a very satisfying CD. I am glad for the choice. I plan to look into more of Harnancourt's work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago