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A superior version of Mozart's unique effort

ReviewMozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah, made in 1789, relates to his involvement in the circle of musical connoisseurs surrounding the Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Viennese nobleman and aficionado of the monuments of Baroque music. It is, as the booklet here aptly puts it, a "cover version" (the German participle, charmingly enough, is "gecovert") of Handel's work, neither a radical rethinking nor a light rescoring.
Mozart adds a good deal of wind scoring, often arranging things so that the winds peek out with a wink toward the end of an aria. The treatments of the flute and bassoon are playful and very Mozartian, yet the music, with the exception of one number, "Wenn Gott ist für uns" (CD 2, No. 23), is Handel's. Even that number, in which the original aria is discarded in favor of a new recitative, has subtle echoes of the original intervallic structure in Mozart's new music, and in the big choruses Mozart plays it straight.
The biggest change for the casual listener is the one from English to the German of van Swieten himself, working from an earlier translation by Friedrich Klopstock and Christoph Ebeling. If "Alle Tale" does not have quite the ringing quality of "Ev'ry valley," "Herr der Herrn, der Götter Gott" gets the message across.
Conductor Jürgen Budday, leading the Hannoversche Hofkapelle, offers a spirited reading that reveals many of the score's smaller details. Although the soprano of Marlis Petersen is a bit outsized for a work that was originally performed with only 12 singers and has, for all the monumentality of Handel's Messiah, a certain intimate quality, this is a superior version of Mozart's unique effort, benefiting from the edge of live performance in a sonically spectacular venue. The booklet is helpful, quoting extensively from a detailed eighteenth century essay on Mozart's effort.

Review by James Manheim
All Media Guide,


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