Saturday, April 29, 2006

Messiah Roundup

I suppose that this work is best saved for Christmas, though it has the Nativity and Passion narratives, but I am bored. My boredom, and desire not to smoke a whole pack of Marlboro Lights Menthol before Mass, is your boon.

Hogwood/AAM/L'Oiseau Lyre
I like this one, perhaps more than the other two. It has a distinctly British feel, but without the thundering choir and soppy orchestration. If memory serves, this was one of the earliest HIP performances of this work, and - with a copyright date of 1980 - it is one of the earlier records in the second wave of HIP. Hogwood keeps things moving, and with a good sense of drama. Since I tend to judge Messiah recordings on the "Hallelujah" (a note on that at the end), a note on that. Hogwood turns in an explosive, jubilant account. That, I suppose, is the best way to define the whole record.

Pace Pinnock, et al., but this is the Pollux of the HIP Messiah recordings. Like all, or most, of Gardiner's recordings, it is a little drier than Hogwood. Gardiner has, probably, the better orchestra, choir, soloists, and recording; however, the excitement remains with Hogwood. Gardiner is a very variable conductor. His Wassermusik was superlative (though I still prefer the Boulez record), but his Bruckner D-minor Mass was a disappointment of the first rank. This is a good effort, and technically great; however, mere perfection will not suffice for a work everyone knows by heart already.

Harnoncourt/CM Wien/DHM
Nikolaus Harnoncourt already did the Messiah some time ago. I assume that SonyBMG wanted to cash in on Christmas and recorded a Musikverein performance. They should have recycled Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing "Little Drummer Boy" with a techno-remix by DJ Tiesto. I digress. This is a weird, weird record. Harnoncourt suggests that he went back with graphologists and musicologists to try to figure out what Handel really wanted. Sometimes he works, and sometimes he doesn't. His "Hallelujah" starts off slow and ends up really flying along at a good clip. It starts off boring and ends up having some teeth. That variability is a good metaphor for the whole shebang. I am not particularly impressed. If you like Harnoncourt, and I do, you'll find something to enjoy. If you like things to make sense all the time, then you'll be miffed.

Everyone needs one Messiah, some people need two, and most people don't need more than three. Buy Hogwood. Once you are bored by that, move on to Pinnock or Gardiner. I think that Pinnock got a little cheaper on a DG Originals disc. Save Harnoncourt for experts. Or the clinically insane.

*Why does the Penitent Wagnerite judge Messiah recordings on the merits of the "Hallelujah"? It is the biggest moment in the whole damn oratorio. If you cannot get the climax right, then you are just beating time. I could do that. So could a middle-of-the-line Dr. Beat electronic metronome. If done correctly, it can sweat blood. If messed-up, then it merely sounds like Easter services at the Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church here in town. So I guess. Being Catholic, I really don't get to sing much Handel at Mass. Plenty of Haugen, though...plenty of Haugen.


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