- Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56
Handel: Messiahby Jeannette Sorrell
In 1996, Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland-based Baroque orchestra that she founded, made a very fine recording of "Messiah," but this 2010 album surpasses it in every way. Sorrell's treatment of the slow opening of the Sinfonia tips her hand about what her approach will be to the oratorio as a whole. Rather than playing the rhythm dotted, as written (ponderous) or double dotted, as it's usually interpreted by early music specialists (rigid and severe), she splits the difference and plays it as a triplet, which gives it a lovely dancing lilt. It's indicative of the exceptionally light touch and punchy rhythmic vitality she employs throughout. The other outstanding characteristic of the performance is how wonderfully entertaining it is. The singers and the orchestra sound like they are absolutely delighted to be performing "Messiah," and they approach it as if it were fresh and new, a rare accomplishment in a piece so over-performed. (The expressions on the musicians' faces on the accompanying DVD confirm their enthusiastic pleasure in the music.) Sorrell draws a variety of colors from the chorus, sometimes coolly descriptive, sometimes giddy, and sometimes gleamingly radiant, but always pure, youthful, and clean, with immaculate precision. Citing the convention of Handel's time that oratorios were performed by opera singers in concert halls and were attended by opera audiences who came expecting entertainment rather than religious worship, Sorrell gives her excellent soloists great freedom in ornamentation and virtuoso vocal display. The results are more florid than modern listeners have come to expect of "Messiah" performances, but they are persuasively emotional and highly dramatic. Most extreme is tenor Ian Honeyman, who sings "Thy rebuke has broken his heart" with an anguish and fury that make him sound like he is spitting nails. It may shock listeners who expect the oratorio to deliver an entirely soothing and uplifting experience, but it is undeniably effective and is certainly faithful to the text. Avie's sound is clean, warm, and balanced. This first-rate "Messiah" should be especially rewarding for anyone whose love for the piece has dimmed over time because of routine and mediocre performances.
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsJeannette Sorrell Primary Artist
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