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Messiah [Hybrid SACD]

Harnoncourt; Concentus Musicus Wien , Handel George Frideric Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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1. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; Sinfonia: Grave - Allegro moderato
2. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; Comfort ye my people (Accompagnato)
3. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; Ev'ry valley shall be exalted (Air)
4. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; And the glory of the Lord (Chorus)
5. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; Thus sayth the Lord (Accompagnato)
6. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; But who may abide ( Air)
7. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; And He shall purify (Chorus)
8. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Air)
9. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; For behold, darkness shall cover the earth (Accompagnato)
10. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; The people that walked in darkness (Air)
11. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; For unto us a child is born (Chorus)
12. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; Pifa
13. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them (Accompagnato)
14. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; And suddenly there was with the angel (Accompagnato)
15. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; Glory to God (Chorus)
16. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion (Air)
17. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; He shall feed His flock (Duet)
18. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 1; His yoke is easy (Chorus)
19. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 2; Behold the Lamb of God (Chorus)
20. Messiah, HWV 56; Part 2; He was despised (Air)
See all 47 tracks on this disc

Product Description

Amazon.ca

Harnoncourt makes some interesting points in this live recording with the Concentus Musicus Wien, the Stockholm Chamber Choir, and soloists Elizabeth Gale, Marjana Lipovsek, Werner Hollweg, and Roderick Kennedy, which dates from November 1982. He takes a remarkably gentle approach with "For unto us," making it sound almost as if it were a lullaby, yet achieves real vehemence in the strings' depiction of the "refiner's fire" in "But who may abide." Unfortunately, it is in this aria that we first encounter one of the set's main problems, the rather heavily accented English of soloist Lipovsek. There is also a recognizable foreignness to the way the Swedish chorus sings, which might tend to distance an American listener from this recording. --Ted Libbey

Product Description

If you want to own one recording of Handel's Messiah , this hybrid Super Audio CD version of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien just might be it-Harnoncourt studied the composer's original manuscripts to craft a performance as close to the intention of the original as possible. And the sound just might make you break out a Hallelujah! chorus of your own!

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5.0 out of 5 stars As beautiful as a cathedral Aug. 6 2002
Format:Audio CD
This is Haendel's everlasting and unequaled masterpiece. He reaches in this work universality and maybe eternity. But first of all he is a man of his time : he tries to please everyone and not only one section of society. So his music does not sound overworked and overadorned. It sounds natural. We can follow every line as if we already knew it. We can expect every intervention of any instrument, or any break or transition in the music, just as if we had composed it. In other words Haendel is here a perfect post-Bach composer : he aims at pleasing everyone. He is also of his own time because of the use of a visual architecture to build his music. It is the architecture of those beautiful and flamboyant cathedrals we admire so much in England and elsewhere in Europe. We may think it is some kind of vain lace of stone and stained glass. But in fact every single little arch and detail is there to build a whole that would be completely meaningless if any one of those details were to be taken away. Haendel's music is exactly the same. There is not one single note too many, there is not one single adornment and variation too many. It is just perfect and we feel it to be perfect, we are convinced by our own senses that it is perfect because it survives our listening and lives in our minds forever. The feeling we get in that music is that many arches, be they voices or instruments, span the sky of our dreams with a complex network that stands up to our expectations and our pleasure, that stands on its own feet and conquers the densest and heaviest laws of gravity. We are constantly suspended in mid-air, in the pure immensity of the sky. But that has to do also with the meaning of the words and the language of the libretto. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Harnoncourt & Messiah 2: Polish, Velvet, Platinum, Pearls Dec 7 2005
By drdanfee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
One comes to this new SACD performance of Handel's Messiah with high hopes. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien have a well-deserved buzz for being musical pioneers who blazed new and interesting trails in the early music, period performance, and period instrument movements. One of the more interesting period instrument Messiah's has long been Harnoncourt's earlier effort, captured on red book 16-bit CD.

A glance over the four soloists raises our hopes further. Soprano Christine Schafer has just the silver bell voice that can ring out joy in Messiah's arias, a possible equal of one of my great favs, Elly Ameling, or another fav, Arlene Auger. Tenor Michael Schade, ditto. One expects a lot of him just on recorded reputation so far. Will he stand tall in the heraldic line that includes singers like Richard Lewis, Philip Langridge, John Aler, Jon Vickers? Mezzo Anna Larsson steps up, with the memories of really great altos hanging in the balance - the likes of Janet Baker, Yvonne Minton, Anna Reynolds, Anne Sophie von Otter, Helen Watts. Finally, we come to bass baritone Gerald Finley. He, too, might stand in honor of a lineage that has included the likes of Gorgio Tozzi, Gwynne Howell, Bejamin Luxon, Nathan Berg, Alastair Miles, John Cheek, John Tomlinson, Justino Diaz - and one of the great recorded treats, Bryn Terfel in the Chandos / Collegium 90 recording.

No recording of Messiah can fail to take account of the chorus. The Schoenberg Chorus have done very fine work on other recordings - including a cherished Harnoncourt-led (earlier, with Gruberova) Haydn Creation that still sits on my fav shelf. One wonders how they will fare here?

Well, here is the score card, with comments.

Given high hopes, this entirely competent performance disappoints.

The high resolution sound is captured very well, at rather mid-hall position in the famous Vienna venue. Surround sound channels only make more obvious what is mainly missing from this one: Commitment, energy.

If you want to hear Messiah in original instruments, you can go to several other recorded versions, and get a less soporific experience of the work. Messiah is a holiday music tradition, true, in many parts of the world. But it was - and still is, actually - an innovative and controversial work that broke new ground for oratorio (especially in English), for setting sacred texts, and for showing that a work of sheer musical genius that towers high in the genre could also be wildly popular. The major period performance competitors include: Valentin Radu / Ama Deus Ensemble on Vox, Suzuki / Japan Bach Collegium on BIS, Gardiner / Monteverdi Choir on DGG, Pinnock / English Concert on DGG (Arlene Auger), Ton Koopman / Amsterdam Baroque (inactive), Scholars on Naxos, and Hickox / Collegium 90 on Chandos. As a Messiah fan who listens to this music all year round, I can get more heart and more excitement out of any of the competing alternative sets than I can hear in this second outing by Harnoncourt and company. My momentary favs are circling around Radu - probably the punchiest period instrument version so far, capturing an edgy fire that belies its budget price as well as its local cast of Philadelphia unfamous singers and players; and, of course, the Collegium 90 set with the amazing Bryn Terfel, caught in peak form way before he became famous and possibly over-exposed in cross-over pop classics; and thirdly the thrilling, committed version by William Christie / Les Arts Florissant on Harmonia Mundi.

There is nothing terribly wrong with the second Harnoncourt, here, except that it should have been so much better than it actually turned out to be. The chorus is fine, and so are the soloists. Nobody is beneath the music in the technical sense. But the whole business is so entirely customary, polished, and uneventful that it reminds me of all those gala opening nights at the symphony where the real point is to dress up, raise money, and show just how glamorously involved everybody is. This Harnoncourt occasion is all dressed up in black velvet and pearls - and misses the musical point of Messiah by just that much.

A legendary exchange in conversation between one of the British nobility and the composer captures the point. Lord so-and-so supposedly remarked to Handel, after attending one Messiah performance, that it had all been a pretty fine affair, socially and musically very entertaining. Handel's reply was to the effect that he hoped not only to entertain his audience, but to actually make them better people. Listening to this newest Harnoncourt offering doesn't make me better. Given the simply huge talents it tapped for its members, I am curmudgeonly enough and onery enough to still think that it should.

So, disappointing. Three stars at regular and forgetful best.

If you want to widen the circle to include regular instrument performances, you get access to really wonderful alternatives that have hung around in the CD catalogues for some time. My favs from this large group currently include: Mackerras / Ambrosian Singers on EMI; Robert Shaw / Singers on Sony BMG; Westenburg / Musica Sacra on Sony BMG; and the outrageous but zingy Beecham / RPO on Sony BMG. Somary / Amor Artis is currently out of catalogue; but Artemis Classics is re-issuing much of the old Vanguard Recording Society catalogue, often in stunning 5.1 Dolby Digital remixed sound - so keep an eye out.

Put one of the richly sung and lively alternatives on the player, then. Sit back, and let yourself get lost for about two hours in just how amazing this oratorio really is. If you pay attention, you will surely conclude that Handel wrote an enduring masterpiece that is better than it ever can be played and sung, on any given occasion. (Schnabel talking about the Beethoven sonatas.) Or, as Beethoven said, gesturing towards a manuscript of Handel's Messiah, There lies the truth.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good performance, well recorded Dec 12 2005
By Virginia Opera Fan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I like this recording despite some interpretative details that have proved mannered on repeated listening. With Harnoncourt leading the performers, there is always a clear interpretive point of view whether I agree with the immediate choices or not. I remember an interview some years back in which Harnoncourt explained his gentle treatment of the end of "His yoke is easy." He said that the typical near screaming of references to easy yokes and light burdens is not in keeping with the text. So agree or not the interpretation flows from a point of view and not generalized "performance practice". There are times, however, when the strongly rhetorical renderings of the airs create too great contrast with the rather traditional choral work. As an example, the emphatic "But who may abide" is followed by a comfortably ambling performance of the chorus "And He shall purify". Although not as pronounced as Jacobs lightening of effect, "For unto us" displays a similar mincing of the choral acclamations, particularly "Prince of Peace". I suppose one can argue it reflects the text. Perhaps taking his cue from Handel's reported "vision of heaven" to his servant, Harnoncourt begins "Hallelujah" in a almost dream-like state, holding back the fireworks for the conclusion. The listener will have to decide for themselves whether it works or not.

The Schoenberg Choir is clearly a virtuoso ensemble and makes a very strong contribution to the proceedings. Unfortunately, in common with many German speaking choirs, they sing in accented English that can be a little irritating. The English "s" sound (is, his, this, etc.) usually comes out as the double s sound in "hiss". Vowels are sometimes distorted as well. Concerning the soloists, the ladies are good, but that problem of germanic diction is somewhat intrusive. I am impressed by the men. The vibrant voices of the tenor and bass recall the more sensuous sounds and heroic manner of bygone days. Finley, is, I believe, the only native Anglophone in the group.

The orchestra blends precision and beguiling tone with the tanginess of period instruments. We've come a long way from the sawing, scraping and surging that passed for historic performance even a few years ago.

The SACD multi channel sound is satisfying. There is a nice stereo image without a hole in the middle and the rear channels are restricted to subtle hall ambience - no instruments sprinting to the back of the hall in this recording. I downgrade the overall rating because of some interpretive details and my irritation with some of the pronunciation. Contrary to some comments, this recording isn't the first to give us Handel's unedited setting of the word "incorruptible" (in "The trumpet shall sound") with the accent on the "tib". Hogwood did it in his late 1970s/early 1980s version as did Parrott on Virgin Classics and Suzuki on BIS. Hogwood raised critical hackles and one suggestion that the bass soloist should be banned from singing in English for a year!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh look at Messiah that works Nov. 23 2006
By Elliot Richman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
...so anyway I'm listening and enjoying immensely what I'm hearing and I'm thinking well if this is what all the fuss is about big deal I mean everybody's criticizing Harnoncourt's choices of tempi and soloist assignments and whatall well what's the big deal it still SOUNDS great and like what else is there really besides overall sound and satisfaction and the soloists are good (contralto's not bad) to great (soprano Schaefer and tenor Michael Schade and baritone Finley) and the Arnold Schoenberg Chorus is just peaches 'n' cream I mean smooth as silk and unbelievably beautiful and the playing of Concentus Musicus Wien is second to none and Harnoncourt's been doing early music since probably before I was even a listener and anyway there's plenty of ways to skin the proverbial cat so how far off can this Messiah be and like I said it SOUNDS just superbly good and is TOTALLY satisfying and then finally the Hallelujah Chorus starts...and it's like pianissimo with soft and rounded edges and WHOA!!! So THAT's what all the commotion is about? Well in my humble opinion it's great. It's a fresh look at an old warhorse of the highest order by a supreme executor of early and choral music styles performed exquisitely well and recorded beautifully and it WORKS!

Seriously, I LOVE this recording. From the tenor's first unusual utterance in "Comfort ye" to the pianissimo opening of the Hallelujah Chorus it is deeply satisfying. There are a number of high-quality Messiah recordings available in standard and early music versions, large and small ensemble versions, and with operatic singers and with chamber singers; to designate a single one as the best is somewhere between pointless and impossible. For conventional Messiah performance style, this is clearly not the choice. But how important is "conventional style," how relevant is it, and what is the basis for it? For fine music making that is well thought out, well executed, and well recorded, this second Harnoncourt version is a clear contender, a real beaut. I recommend it wholeheartedly!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A neo-romantic Messiah with lots of expression Jan. 30 2006
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Handel's Messiah was one of the first major Baroque works that every period-style conductor rushed to free from its Victorian muffler. Now it's been 20 years of violins with no vibrato, boy sporanos, choirs reduced to the bare minimum, and clipped double-dotitng with explosive accents. It's a style, all rght, but not one that I've exactly embraced. Harnoncourt's earlier Teldec recording was among the more aggressive ones, but this new one changes tack entirely.

This version is openly romantic, with full-voiced women in the chorus. It uses a lot of expressive rubato, soft-pedalled accents, religious reverence, and other accoutrements that hark back, amazingly, to the style of Thomas Beecham. The chorus is smallish, and the violins still eschew vibrato, but Harnoncourt gives us an all-around softening of lines that is refeshing. No more clipped double-dotting! One is reminded that the Baroque was a floridly expressive era, and there is no excuse for desiccating the Messiah.

Harnoncourt's ideas are idiosyncratic, of course. We get fast chrouses that come out slow and vice versa. Among his soloists, Gerald Finely stands out as the only serious rival to Quasthoff and Shirley-Quirk for dramatic impact. Christine Schafer isn't a native English speaker, and she tiptoes verbally around her part, but otherwise she is in good form. Anna Larson can't hope to rival Janet Baker and Helen Watts, but in her plain way she's an asset; it's a relief to hear a deep mezzo instead of a squeaky countertenor. Swiss tenor Michael Schade sings in excellent English, and he is canny about negotiating the very difficult tenor lines by alternating semi-crooning and full voice.

Ever since the Messiah was unleashed, we have become accumstomed to anything-goes in tempos, editions, embellishments, alternate versions, etc. Harnoncourt mixes and matches, like everyone else. If I could characterize his approach in a word, it would be spontaneous--he wants us to believe that this music is inspiring him by the moment, and since he is a quirky musician, we must expect his inspirations to be quirky. They are, yet I thoroughly enjoyed his Messiah in the way I enjoyed Hermann Scherchen's, another quirky conductor, fifty years ago.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harnoncourt transforms the Messiah--mesmerizing, startling highlights July 4 2013
By Andrew R. Barnard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Now that the Messiah has received popularity that some might deem excessive, we've all grown accustomed to every bar and nuance. Handel's score is a masterpiece, hence its wide following, but for myself, having sung the work numerous times with local groups as well as hearing it on disc since infancy, there are times I want new, radical ideas. I can testify that this reading from Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his Concentus Musicus Wien (an authentic group as fine as they come) is full of truly novel insights. Every bar seems to convey a new emotion, a welcome relief from readings that seem to be a predictable, religious trudge.

But unlike many of his compatriots, Harnoncourt's lack of thick, gushy sentimentality isn't code for bland cheerfulness and lack of direction. Drama is used to the extreme but the music moves with definite purpose. What makes this reading revolutionary is that Harnoncourt seems to have overlooked a century of frequent performances that has tended towards stereotyping and monotony. In this way, Harnoncourt's freshness may seem backward-looking. But he combines a feel of great mystery and expectation with the intimacy and tenderness afforded by a period ensemble. These are romantic interpretations in almost every way, though. The nuance and affection in Harnoncourt's phrasing--which has a high dosage of unconstrained rubato--certainly isn't heard every day.

Among the soloists, all of which are front tier, the standout is Gerald Finley, whose vibrant, volatile singing fits perfectly with Harnoncourt's rethinking. The professional Arnold Schoenberg Choir sings with conviction and pinpoint accuracy. We feel the many surges in Harnoncourt's conducting conveyed with sensitivity across a wide range of expression. In all, it's hard to point to a weakness in this recording outside of the fact that we only get one disc of selections. I can't imagine what the whole work would sound like under such inspiration, but what we have is 77 minutes of transforming musicianship that would be hard to forget.
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