Handel: Messiah (2CD)

Deutsche Grammophon
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Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh



Dorothea Roschmann, Susan Gritton (soprano), Bernarda Fink (mezzo), Charles Daniels (tenor), Neal Davies (bass)
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh

Dorothea Roschmann, Susan Gritton (soprano), Bernarda Fink (mezzo), Charles Daniels (tenor), Neal Davies (bass)

Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh


"For all the inspiration the culture of reconstruction has afforded Paul McCreesh in his career thus far, the text on its own terms is clearly what drives this thoughtful and invigorating new Messiah. That said, McCreesh still feels the need to justify his interpretation (and doubtless his part in the 'grain mountain' of recordings in the catalogue), setting out his stall as he does with an essay entitled "A Messiah for the Millennium". For a man with a keen contextual eye, it is not Ruth Smith's splendid essay on the theological undertow of Messiah which catches the attention so much as McCreesh's philosophical positioning. I am not quite certain how the desire to make his Messiah "thoroughly modern" connects with his earlier assertion that "our current obsession with historicism and objectivity reflects the 20th century more vividly than the period whose musical style and context we struggle so hard to re-create". Drawn more to Sargent than the "evangelism of the first 'period' performances", McCreesh takes a very fin de siècle approach. As it happens, this is a modern Messiah. The Gabrieli Consort and Players are as responsive and professional a group as you will find these days. McCreesh has fastidiously assembled solo singers with broad mainstream experience — a policy which has clearly paid off — and Handel's choruses encapsulate all the vitality and litheness of the modern English vocal consort at its best. More than that, McCreesh is a natural dramatist and all his singers respond magnificently to the evangelical fervour which Jennens, if one senses not always Handel, envisioned.

Typical of the age, McCreesh's expression is candid and immediate, if not imparted with the unfolding spirituality of Suzuki. or fragrancy of Christie; his is a particular type of musicianship which reaches out, quite Sargent-like in the robust swagger of "And the Glory", the grand leisurely "Amen" and almost elegiac enunciation in "Comfort ye" — perhaps.too static for some but Charles Daniels's supreme control has us holding our breath. McCreesh, in employing, for the most part, the Foundling Hospital version of 1754, treats us to a second soprano. His casting serves him well with two incandescent performances: Susan Gritton is suitably unmollifiable in "a refiner's fire" though she turns on the intensity, if not exactly sweetness in "I know that my Redeemer liveth". Dorothea Röschmann provides a similarly bright edge, if not that marked a contrast with Gritton: in both cases, we are treated to singing of considerable technical finesse. Bernarda Fink's heady and rasping contralto may not appeal to everyone but "He was despised" leaves one in little doubt of Jennens's starkest sentiments. Neal Davies is sure-footed and impressive, and less guilty of forcing the sound than Daniels in Part 2.

The energy and focused proclamation of this reading will surely win many friends: whilst tempos may appear hard-pushed ("He trusted in God" is a touch frenetic, which leaves one rather short on textural warmth). there is a consistency and rooted concentration to proceedings, at times a little wearing in its questful momentum, but always thoroughly engaged: what you hear is what you get. 'Messiah is historically such an important yardstick in judging performance tastes that perhaps McCreesh does not, after all, protest too much in his booklet. His modernism, on this evidence, is about striving to break from the shackles and urgently getting to the heart of the matter. The occasional residue of gratuitous 'period' gesture is redressed by a distinctly unmannered and, in toto, a highly compelling reading. A Messiah for the millennium? Certainly, one of the best around. Recorded sound is both resonant but also close, and fairly compressed in its more rumbustious moments."

- Gramophone Magazine, 1997.