~HWV 56~

Chandos CHAN 0522
2 CDs
mid price
Originally recorded and released in 2001
Reissued in 2002

Joan Rodgers, soprano
Della Jones, mezzo-soprano
Christopher Robson, countertenor
Philip Langridge, tenor
Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone

Collegium Musicum 90 (on period instruments)
Richard Hickox, conductor




This recording of Messiah was released in 1991 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the oratorio’s composition. During the last decade it has never been unavailable, although its current reissue at mid-price makes it more attractive to the casual buyer confronted with an overwhelming amount of choice. Although there are a plethora of Messiah performances on disc ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, this reissue features some fine moments.

First among them is a strong performance by the young Bryn Terfel, who at that time had not yet broken on to the international opera scene. His magnificent “Why do the nations” is a reminder that he is, or at least was, a fine Handelian singer. The other most notable asset is Della Jones, whose Handel singing is always something to treasure. Her performance of “He was despised” is one of the finest on disc. The other soloists are good, but not quite exceptional compared to their competitors.

Collegium Musicum 90 are among the most accomplished English period instrument orchestras, and this recording contains ample evidence of their quality (for example, the trumpet solo in “The trumpet shall sound” is peerlessly played by Crispian Steele Perkins). The choir is also well disciplined and demonstrates tight control over consonants and rhythmic stresses. Yet these distinguished contributions cannot quite rank this Messiah among the finest versions. Apart from the general quality of the orchestra and some of the soloists, the overall performance is disappointing and verges on becoming insipid in the later movements in Parts 2 and 3. Hickox’s speeds are well chosen, and the technical skill of his musicians cannot be disputed. But the traditional direction of the oratorio is slightly too safe to inspire excitement, and for stretches the performers sound as if they were on autopilot. Those with specific reason to buy this version will probably not be disappointed. Others wishing to buy a cheap complete recording of a historically aware Messiah performance may be more satisfied by Andrew Parrott (Virgin Veritas) or Diego Fasolis (Arts).

© David Vickers - July 2002

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