~ HWV 56 ~

Nimbus Records NI 5709/10
2 CDs
full price
Recorded in 2003.
Released in 2003

Alison Smart, soprano
William Towers, countertenor
Michael Hart-Davis, tenor
Gavin Carr, baritone

Saint Michaelís Singers
English Symphony Orchestra (on modern instruments)
Conductor: William Boughton




Once upon a time, the small independent British record label Nimbus made wonderful recordings of eighteenth-century music performed on period instruments. The Hanover Band and Roy Goodman were their brightest and freshest period instrument stars, and tackled major projects such as Beethovenís biggest works long before more celebrated luminaries committed their ideas onto disc. Yet, over the years, Nimbus has struggled and almost disappeared entirely. I, for one, lament the loss of the kind of recordings they once made. In fact, it was The Hanover Bandís recording of Mozartís Clarinet Concerto, featuring Colin Lawson playing the basset clarinet, that was my first spellbinding introduction to the sonority and energy of period instruments and ďauthenticĒ performance practice.


Thus, it was with a sense of nostalgia and respect that I looked forward to hearing Nimbusís new recording of Messiah by William Boughton and the English Symphony Orchestra. These performers are virtually Nimbusís resident artists, and the use of modern instruments, an unfamiliar choir, and lack of big name soloists did not deter me. Maybe it should have. This Messiah is painfully dull, and has nothing exceptional to commend it. It is a decently engineered live recording of a distinctly average performance, bearing all the marks of a well-loved local choral society event of the sort one can hear all over the world every Christmas. The orchestra is reliable but saggy and uninspired, the choir is rough around the edges, and the soloists are average at best. Tenor Michael Hart-Davisís delivery of the oratorioís first line sums up the misfiring performance when he blissfully invites us to ĎCome for tea, my people!í


The performance shows all the signs of many competent musical people who all know Messiah so well that they decided not to make much of an effort to think about interpretation. Historically-informed performance practice does not have much of a presence here, but those who prefer traditional Edwardian-style Handel might still be disappointed: this recording is unrewarding because the performance simply is not good enough. I dare say my criticisms are unkind and do injustice to a concert that its audience enjoyed. But releasing a commercial recording of this pedestrian and instantly forgettable performance is mystifying, and it saddens me to think that my memories of The Hanover Band on Nimbus relate to a long distant time, place, and record label.

© David Vickers - February 2004

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