Handel: Messiah

Handel: Messiah

by Christopher Hogwood


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Handel: Messiah

Recordings like Christopher Hogwood's "Messiah" are perfect vehicles for the debate of the authentic instrument movement in music. Especially here, since a work as well known to a wide general audience as the "Messiah" (the recordings of which number in the thousands) will get a number of varied reactions depending upon the performance. Hogwood, although known to many as a "father" (of sorts) to the authentic movement in music, was actually the keyboardist in Neville Marriner's Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields before leaving to form his own Academy of Ancient Music. He has done extensive scholarly research into the performance traditions of Baroque music, much of which has permanently altered many long-standing attitudes and traditions in music performance. The question remains, though: does all of this research and application contribute to a finished product that is communicative to an audience? It seems likely, if based only on the impressive cast. Augmenting the Academy's forces are tenor Paul Elliott, contralto Carolyn Watkinson, and sopranos Judy Nelson and Emma Kirkby. The Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford, is equally impressive. For this recording, as is indicated in his extensive and thorough liner notes, Hogwood utilizes the 1754 Foundling Hospital version. Although it may be a surprising change for some listeners accustomed to the more "standard" versions, the re-creation of this performance is important in a number of ways, historically and artistically. But from the opening bars of the overture, the atmosphere feels rushed. Harmonies are not given enough space or time to be heard and to blossom, and the atmosphere feels thin, grainy, cold, and dry. This seems hardly conducive to the rapture, passion, and magnificence depicted in Handel's score. Everything seems too perfect and too pure, too lifeless and too little energy. An additional annoyance is that the balance of the harpsichord seems far above the orchestra, in some cases (the "Glory of the Lord," for instance) even covering the singers when they dip into the lower registers. These complaints are now almost cliché for those who consistently complain of Hogwood's performance style; for better or worse this recording could serve well as evidence. Looking past these issues, however, one can find a number of beautiful moments throughout. It is precisely due to his approach with this music that Hogwood is able to draw some extraordinary changes of color when and where he wants to. For example, the first bars of "and He Shall Purify" are breathtaking; the organ is significantly exposed here for the first time and finally he releases the music in a way that seems to let it unravel. The vocal solos are good throughout, and Kirkby's performance is notable for its suppleness and grace. Keep in mind that this is a re-creative performance, designed to emulate the conditions of the performance at the Foundling Hospital. Unfortunately, in this case it also means that while the sound quality is certainly good, even though the playing and singing are exceptional, the performance itself may not draw you in. Years after its first release, this recording still leaves one cold, and if you desire a warm, emotional, and intimate performance you may do well to look elsewhere. For those who prefer something more austere, though, look no further.

Product Details

Release Date: 10/10/1991
Label: Decca
UPC: 0028943048828
catalogNumber: 430488
Rank: 142003


  1. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: 1754 Foundling Hospital Version

    1. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:56)
    2. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (03:56)
    3. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (06:35)
    4. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (04:06)
    5. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:50)
    6. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:59)
    7. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (05:31)
    8. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (03:37)
    9. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:42)
    10. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:22)
    11. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (06:14)
    12. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (03:15)
    13. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (05:35)
    14. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (01:44)
    15. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (04:14)
    16. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:54)
    17. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (00:52)
    18. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (01:13)
    19. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (03:21)
    20. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:04)
    21. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (04:09)
    22. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (01:21)
    23. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (05:03)
    24. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (03:15)
    25. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:51)
    26. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:11)
    27. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:18)
    28. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (04:04)
    29. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (10:19)
    30. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (05:35)
    31. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:02)
    32. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (08:59)
    33. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (01:23)
    34. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (02:17)
    35. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (04:21)
    36. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (03:45)
    37. 1754 Foundling Hospital Version  (03:37)

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Handel: Messiah 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is probably the 7th performance of Messiah that I have studied. It is without a doubt the most perfectly authentic interpretation ever recorded! Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music took great pains to keep to the original instruments and voices used by Handel in his Covent Garden performance of Messiah. THE INSTRUMENTATION This recording utilizes, to a great degree, period instruments to produce an intimate and life-like feel. I have heard many recordings where the harpsichord is simply drowned out by the chorus and strings, not so here. Hogwood makes sure to give each instrument its proper place, thereby giving the recording an amazingly balanced feel. THE VOCALS One of the most unique features of this recording is the fact that Hogwood truly sticks to the most original vocals possible. The most noticeable difference from other Messiah recordings is that Hogwood uses a boys choir for the high soprano chorus parts, just as Handel did. This contrasts with the standard adult female soprano chorus employed in most other recordings. The boys choir produces a certain purity of diction to the high registers unmatched by any other performance. This is especially striking during the opening measures of "And he shall purify". THE ATTITUDE From the moment the music starts, you can feel the joy with which these artist are recreating Messiah. In the booklet that comes with the recording, Hogwood mentions that this was not only meant to be an authentic recreation, but also a joyous expression in music making. That truly comes across in every aspect of the recording. This is simply the finest recreation of Messiah to which I have ever listened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a lifelong lover of classical music and a broad variety of other music, I've never been able to answer the old dinner question, "If you were stuck on a deserted island and could pick only one recording..." Hogwood's recording of Messiah is now my answer. It is spectacular from start to finish. So many conductors and other musicians see Messiah as a fireworks presentation, Hogwood lets the music speak for itself. Understatement and clarity make this interpretation the most secure and beautiful music I've ever heard. This is Messiah as you've never heard it before...and I bet you'll never want to go back. It's a genuine masterpiece.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is unequivocally the finest interpretation of Handel's MESSIAH that has ever been recorded. In fact, "interpretation" is the wrong word as Christopher Hogwood researches and utilizes the same instrumentation that was available to the composer. Thus, this version is probably the closest you will find to what Handel himself envisioned.
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