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John Nelson|Handel: Messiah, HWV 56

Handel: Messiah, HWV 56

John Nelson, The English Concert

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For many music lovers it wasn't all that long ago there were only three recordings generally available in the U.S. of Handel’s Messiah—the glorious travesty of Thomas Beecham’s, in which the great man junked Handel’s baroque orchestration, common practice for the time, and wrote his own with enormous numbers of strings and not-exactly period instruments like woodwinds, trombones and horns, an elaborate percussion battery and, the finishing touch, harps.

Malcolm Sargent did similarly with his recording of Messiah, though he showed a little more restraint than Beecham. Last, and likely the best-selling Messiah recording at the time in the States, was Eugene Ormandy’s effort, in which he exercised still more restraint in re-orchestrating, though it was hardly period, with added woodwinds, a multitude of strings and other anachronistic additions. Also, in order to make his recording take up only two LPs, Ormandy, no doubt under orders from Columbia Records, made egregious cuts, especially in Part II, which, it may be argued, is the heart of Messiah, in that it concerns the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. The Hallelujah Chorus was generously retained.

Come the mid-sixties hitherto performance and recording practices of Messiah were turned on their ear by the nearly concomitant releases of recordings conducted by Colin Davis with the London Symphony Orchestra and Charles Mackerras with the English Chamber Orchestra. In those revelatory recordings with no cuts, both conductors made serious attempts to recreate as much as possible the original orchestrations and performance practices of the time, with far smaller forces in both orchestra and chorus and using period tempi and phrasing. They forever changed the way Messiah, and all Handel oratorios, were interpreted afterward.

Since their release over a half-century ago, there are now more Messiah recordings than asteroids between Mars and Jupiter; culling the good from the not-so-good is a nearly impossible task. John Nelson’s Messiah, however, makes the choice considerably easier. This reviewer has listened to more recordings than he can count of Messiah and Nelson’s easily tops the list. With a top-notch orchestra, soloists, and chorus, as well its superlative Hi-Res audio, it is difficult to detect any flaws in this Messiah.

Nelson’s tempi, while generally brisk, are not overly so, unlike those of many conductors today, who seem to think baroque music must always be played prestissimo and alla breve. The soloists’ ornamentations, while elaborate, never exceed the bounds of historical practice and have a marvelous and spontaneous quality. Some may be critical of the overly operatic manner in which the arias are performed, especially by the extraordinary male alto, Alex Potter, but they lose sight that oratorios were a result of the Church of England in Handel's time banning opera during Lent. Oratorios, with their biblical texts, were simply a get-around of the Church's ban. Contemporary audiences demanded their opera and that is exactly what they got in Handel's oratorios, minus the scenery and absurd plots.

There is an overall freshness and liveliness in the playing of the English Concert and Choir, as well the singing of the soloists, which defy description. There is also a gratifying bonus in this release: eight additional tracks of arias scored for different voices, and which differ, often substantially, from the more frequently heard versions. They are a result of the oratorio being performed in different venues shortly after its composition and Handel making alterations to suit the forces available. This recording is a remarkable accomplishment. © Anthony Fountain/Qobuz

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Handel: Messiah, HWV 56

John Nelson

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1
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Sinfonia. Grave - Allegro moderato
00:03:33

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

2
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Accompagnato. "Comfort Ye, My People"
00:02:48

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

3
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Aria. "Ev'ry Valley Shall Be Exalted"
00:03:20

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

4
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Chorus. "And the Glory of the Lord"
00:02:29

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

5
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Accompagnato. "Thus Saith the Lord of Hosts"
00:01:25

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Matthew Brook, FeaturedArtist, Bass-Baritone Vocals - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

6
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Aria. "But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming?"
00:04:18

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

7
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Chorus. "And He Shall Purify"
00:02:24

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

8
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Recitative. "Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive"
00:00:25

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

9
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Aria and Chorus. "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion"
00:05:06

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

10
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Accompagnato. "For Behold"
00:01:49

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Matthew Brook, FeaturedArtist, Bass-Baritone Vocals - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

11
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Aria. "The People That Walked in Darkness"
00:03:23

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Matthew Brook, FeaturedArtist, Bass-Baritone Vocals - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

12
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Chorus. "For Unto Us a Child Is Born"
00:04:05

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

13
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Pifa. Larghetto e mezzo piano
00:02:31

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

14
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Recitative. "There Were Shepherds"
00:00:16

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Lucy Crowe, Soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

15
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Recitative. "And Lo, the Angel of the Lord Came Upon Them"
00:00:18

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Lucy Crowe, Soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

16
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Recitative. "And the Angel Said Unto Them"
00:00:29

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Lucy Crowe, Soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

17
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Recitative and Accompagnato. "And Suddenly"
00:00:15

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Lucy Crowe, Soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

18
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Chorus. "Glory to God in the Highest"
00:01:49

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

19
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Aria. "Rejoice Greatly"
00:04:25

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Lucy Crowe, Soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

20
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Recitative. "Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Open'd"
00:00:28

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

21
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Duet. "He Shall Feed His Flock"
00:04:50

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Lucy Crowe, Soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

22
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 1: Chorus. "His Yoke Is Easy"
00:02:14

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

23
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Behold the Lamb of God"
00:03:36

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

24
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Aria. "He Was Despised"
00:10:35

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

25
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs"
00:02:12

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

26
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "And with His Stripes"
00:02:11

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

27
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "All We, Like Sheep, Have Gone Astray"
00:03:48

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

28
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Accompagnato. "All They That See Him Laugh Him to Scorn"
00:00:40

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

29
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "He Trusted in God"
00:02:05

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

30
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Accompagnato. "Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart"
00:01:53

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Sypres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

31
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Aria. "Behold, and See"
00:01:31

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

32
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Recitative. "He Was Cut off out of the Land of the Living"
00:00:16

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

33
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Aria. "But Thou Didst Not Leave His Soul in Hell"
00:02:13

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

34
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Lift Up Your Heads"
00:02:57

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

35
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Recitative. "Unto Which of the Angels He at Any Time"
00:00:13

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

36
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Let All the Angels of God Worship Him"
00:01:29

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

37
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Aria. "Thou Art Gone up on High"
00:03:10

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

38
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "The Lord Gave the Word"
00:01:04

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

39
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Aria. "How Beautiful Are the Feet"
00:01:01

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Alex Potter, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Rory McCleery, Counter-Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

40
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Break Forth into Joy"
00:02:09

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

41
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Their Sound Is Gone out into All Lands"
00:01:26

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

42
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Aria. "Why Do the Nations"
00:02:50

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Matthew Brook, FeaturedArtist, Bass-Baritone Vocals - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

43
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Let Us Break Their Bonds Asunder"
00:01:34

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

44
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Recitative. "He That Dwelleth in Heaven"
00:00:10

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

45
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Aria. "Thou Shalt Break Them"
00:01:59

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Michael Spyres, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

46
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 2: Chorus. "Hallelujah"
00:03:43

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

47
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 3: Aria. "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth"
00:05:40

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Lucy Crowe, Soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

48
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 3: Chorus. "Since by Man Came Death"
00:02:07

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Charles Jennens, Poet - Choir of The English Concert, Choir, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

49
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 3: Accompagnato. "Behold, I Tell You a Mystery"
00:00:40

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Matthew Brook, FeaturedArtist, Bass-Baritone Vocals - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

50
Messiah, HWV 56, Pt. 3: Aria. "The Trumpet Shall Sound"
00:08:46

George Frideric Handel, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - The English Concert, Ensemble, FeaturedArtist - Matthew Brook, FeaturedArtist, Bass-Baritone Vocals - Charles Jennens, Poet

A Warner Classics release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited A Warner Classics release, Ascanio's Purse under exclusive licence to Parlophone Records Limited, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

Album review

For many music lovers it wasn't all that long ago there were only three recordings generally available in the U.S. of Handel’s Messiah—the glorious travesty of Thomas Beecham’s, in which the great man junked Handel’s baroque orchestration, common practice for the time, and wrote his own with enormous numbers of strings and not-exactly period instruments like woodwinds, trombones and horns, an elaborate percussion battery and, the finishing touch, harps.

Malcolm Sargent did similarly with his recording of Messiah, though he showed a little more restraint than Beecham. Last, and likely the best-selling Messiah recording at the time in the States, was Eugene Ormandy’s effort, in which he exercised still more restraint in re-orchestrating, though it was hardly period, with added woodwinds, a multitude of strings and other anachronistic additions. Also, in order to make his recording take up only two LPs, Ormandy, no doubt under orders from Columbia Records, made egregious cuts, especially in Part II, which, it may be argued, is the heart of Messiah, in that it concerns the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. The Hallelujah Chorus was generously retained.

Come the mid-sixties hitherto performance and recording practices of Messiah were turned on their ear by the nearly concomitant releases of recordings conducted by Colin Davis with the London Symphony Orchestra and Charles Mackerras with the English Chamber Orchestra. In those revelatory recordings with no cuts, both conductors made serious attempts to recreate as much as possible the original orchestrations and performance practices of the time, with far smaller forces in both orchestra and chorus and using period tempi and phrasing. They forever changed the way Messiah, and all Handel oratorios, were interpreted afterward.

Since their release over a half-century ago, there are now more Messiah recordings than asteroids between Mars and Jupiter; culling the good from the not-so-good is a nearly impossible task. John Nelson’s Messiah, however, makes the choice considerably easier. This reviewer has listened to more recordings than he can count of Messiah and Nelson’s easily tops the list. With a top-notch orchestra, soloists, and chorus, as well its superlative Hi-Res audio, it is difficult to detect any flaws in this Messiah.

Nelson’s tempi, while generally brisk, are not overly so, unlike those of many conductors today, who seem to think baroque music must always be played prestissimo and alla breve. The soloists’ ornamentations, while elaborate, never exceed the bounds of historical practice and have a marvelous and spontaneous quality. Some may be critical of the overly operatic manner in which the arias are performed, especially by the extraordinary male alto, Alex Potter, but they lose sight that oratorios were a result of the Church of England in Handel's time banning opera during Lent. Oratorios, with their biblical texts, were simply a get-around of the Church's ban. Contemporary audiences demanded their opera and that is exactly what they got in Handel's oratorios, minus the scenery and absurd plots.

There is an overall freshness and liveliness in the playing of the English Concert and Choir, as well the singing of the soloists, which defy description. There is also a gratifying bonus in this release: eight additional tracks of arias scored for different voices, and which differ, often substantially, from the more frequently heard versions. They are a result of the oratorio being performed in different venues shortly after its composition and Handel making alterations to suit the forces available. This recording is a remarkable accomplishment. © Anthony Fountain/Qobuz

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