CD Review: Handel’s ‘Messiah’/Minkowski/Deutsches Grammophon Virtuoso
Messiah/Marc Minkowksi/Deutsches Grammophon Virtuoso.
Nearly three centuries after Handel’s Messiah was first performed in 1742, and nearly a century after its first recordings in the 1920s, Deutsche Grammophon has re-released a 2001 Archiv recording conducted by Marc Minkowski on its Virtuoso label (Catalogue Number 478 6175). Virtuoso promises quality performances at an affordable price. This 2 CD set has an online price of just under $20.
Minkowski directs an augmented ensemble comprising the Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre and Les Musiciens du Louvre with sopranos Nicole Heaston and Lynne Dawson, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, contralto Charlotte Hellekant, counter-tenor Brian Asawa, tenor John Mark Ainsley, baritone Russell Smythe and bass Brian Bannantyne- Scott. The arias and recitatives, usually taken by 4 soloists, are divided amongst this ensemble of eight soloists. Consequently we hear contralto Charlotte Hellekant just once in the aria He was despised.
There will always be considerable debate on Handel’s intended tempi, with each different conductor to his/her own. Minkowski’s version is brisk. Both soloists and choir sound rushed and the detail of some of the rapid coloratura passages and ornamentation is blurred. Minkowski is a highly respected musician with a great number of historically informed recordings and performances to his name, which make his dauntingly fast measures on this recording surprising.
The orchestral playing is fine and well articulated. The soloists are a choice assemblage. Lynne Dawson and John Mark Ainsley deliver a performance that is pure and beautiful in tone. Not surprisingly, the singers whose mother tongue is English, convey the style and the language more easily than Kozena (Czech) and Hellencamp (Swedish) who bring a warm timbre, rich in vibrato. As beautiful as they sound, they are stylistically distinct from the rest.
The booklet accompanying the set contains a simple narrative about Handel and Messiah. Cost most likely precluded the publication of the full text, which may make little difference to a seasoned listener or one who owns a score. For the neophyte at whom this release is aimed, the full text would go a long way towards better understanding of the work.
If $20 is all there is in the budget then this CD represents reasonable value. If you want a recording that will give you more lasting pleasure, look further.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©