George Fr. Handel · Messiah
M E S S I A H
The complete recording
of the English Oratorio HWV 56,
performed according to the traditions of the time
by Miriam Allan (Soprano),
Michael Chance (Countertenor),
Mark Le Brocq (Tenor),
Christopher Purves (Bass),
Hanoverian Court Orchestra,
Maulbronn Chamber Choir.
Conductor: Jürgen Budday.
A concert recording from the church of the German
UNESCO World Heritage Site Maulbronn Monastery
HD Recording · DDD · c. 140 Minutes
his live recording is part of a cycle of oratorios and masses, performed in the basilica of Maulbronn Abbey under the direction of Jürgen Budday. The series combines authentically performed oratorios and masses with the optimal acoustics and atmosphere of this unique monastic church. This ideal location demands the transparency of playing and the interpretive unveiling of the rhetoric intimations of the composition, which is especially aided by the historically informed performance. The music is exclusively performed on reconstructed historical instruments, which are tuned to the pitch customary in the composer's lifetimes (this performance is tuned in a' = 415 Hz).
vital aspect of Jürgen Budday's interpretation of George Frideric Handel's The Messiah, apart from matters of performance practice, is his focus on the work's dynamic conception. Dynamics are notated in the autograph manuscript, but Handel further annotated the Dublin score to mark the ripieno passages. By adding shifts in ensemble strength to the alternation of piano and forte, Handel evokes an ample measure of contrast and colour. Handel's dynamic indications in The Messiah go beyond the usual forte, piano and pianissimo to include mezzo piano and un poco piano, markings by which he intended an even finer differentiation. One would do well, when preparing a performance, to observe the ripieno indications in the Dublin score, as they are for the most part essential to Handel's dynamic conception. Examples in point include the arias Comfort ye (No. 2) and Ev'ry valley shall be exalted (No. 3); the choruses And the glory, the glory of the Lord (No. 4) and His yoke is easy, His burthen is light! (No. 18); as well as the beginning of the Hallelujah chorus (CD II, No. 16).
The Maulbronn interpretation takes this dynamic conception seriously and clearly differentiates solo and ripieno sections in the numbers just mentioned. This inevitably gives rise to novel and more subtle auditory impressions, for which the beginning of the Hallelujah chorus provides a clear example. Elsewhere, Handel's senza ripieno indications appear to have been motivated more by consideration of the technical inadequacies of his ripienisti, and therefore were not observed in the Maulbronn performance. The libretto and the music, each in itself and together as a whole, form a providential unity. The libretto, ascribed to Charles Jennens, is no mere compilation of Bible quotations, and Jennens made various changes to the wording of the selected text passages. In the course of successive performances, Handel composed variants of some of the arias to fit the immediate occasion or circumstances. For the Maulbronn performance, those variants were chosen that Handel himself is said to have preferred.
This live German recording of Messiah is based on a manuscript Handel marked up for a performance of the work in Dublin, adding a variety of new dynamic markings and ensemble indications. There's no reason to regard it as quite the definitive version of the work that it is proposed to be by the booklet here; it can equally well be considered an experiment on Handel's part in dealing with the new stylistic currents of his day. For listeners unfamiliar with it, this version carries quite a few surprises. Sampling merely the beginning of the "Hallelujah" chorus, CD 2, track 16, is enough to give the listener an idea of what he or she is getting into as the usually muscular entrance of the choir contracts to a quiet, angelic effect. The work becomes much more varied in texture and a good deal less monumental overall.
It would nevertheless be a shame if this recording were pigeonholed among the Dublin versions, for it has a good deal to offer any Messiah listener. Billed as an uncut, historically informed performance, this recording becomes, in the hands of conductor Jürgen Budday, a nice fusion of the immediate feel of the best historical performances (aided by fine live engineering in the impressive, sonically clear spaces of Germany's Maulbronn Monastery) with a rich, more conventional sound from a good-sized German choir, the Maulbronner Kammerchor.
Budday gives the soloists a chance to stretch out in the recitatives. Collectively the performers capture the different strands of Handel's experience - operatic, English Protestant, solo-oriented, and instrumental - that he brought to bear on this magnificent work, and they produce a rich Messiah of unusually strong impact. The live recording has a few flaws, but they are more than overcome by the edge thus generated. Notes are in German and English, the text is in English.
I had heard other recordings done with "authentic" or "antique" instruments, some of which are fine, but usually one or two of the soloists have left me disappointed. This version has satisfied every one of my wishes. Where have they been hiding? It is totally delightful, and I have no complaint. I can only hope that more persons will become aware of this recording and add their two bits of comments.
If you are one of those persons who enjoys heavy vibrato and heavy orchestration, you might not appreciate this fine Baroque recording. But if you are tired of the same old..... then by all means, give it a try. It is refreshing!