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Penguin Guide, January 2009

In his 1751 reconstruction Higginbottom used boy trebles not only for the choruses but for the soprano arias we well. Rejoice greatly is, however, allotted to the solo tenor, Toby Spence, who sings very pleasingly throughout. Higginbottom also uses the period-instrument Academy of Ancient Music, now producing orchestra sound of great transparency and refinement, and also the sweetest of string sounds. However, almost certainly, David Blackadder uses a bold modern instrument to play the obbligato in The Trumpet shall sound, strongly sung by Eamonn Dougan. Tempi are lively and the whole performance goes with a swing, with warmth and vitality the keynotes. For unto us a child is born sparkles, but Hallelujah has all the weigh one could want. The solo trebles cover themselves with glory. Otta Jones is most engaging in How beautiful are the feet and Henry Jenkinson, who is allotted I know that my Redeemer liveth, sings with the utmost simplicity and purity. It is the male alto Iestyn Davies, however, who is very touching in He was despised, decorating the da capo reprise very gently. Throughout the performance, which is superbly recorded, the feeling is one of freshness, and this recording has the strongest recommendation, quite irrespective of price.



Porter Anderson
CNN.com, December 2006


James Oestreich
The New York Times, December 2006

Not to be too doctrinaire about this no-“Messiah” business, a couple of new recordings of that Handel masterpiece are worth attention.

Mr. Higginbottom, himself questioning the need for yet another “Messiah” recording in a booklet note, justifies his with the claim that it “provides the only modern account of Handel’s unique London performances in April and May 1751.” The distinguishing feature of those performances was, for whatever reason, the use of boy trebles in the soprano arias as well as in the choruses, though none of that would matter if this were not a fine recording on many other counts.

Having crack boy sopranos is crucial, and Mr. Higginbottom has them: three youngsters who were 11, 12 and 13 at the time of recording. His other soloists — Iestyn Davies, countertenor; Toby Spence, tenor; Eamonn Dougan, bass-baritone — all have excellent moments, and the choir of men and boys rounds out the picture nicely, with good prominence given to the cheerful juvenile piping.



Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, December 2006

Although this all-English "Messiah" comes at a budget price (it's listed at $17.99), it's anything but bargain basement. And even in a marketplace groaning with versions of Handel's work, this is the only re-creation of his 1751 version of the score for occasions featuring both a boy choir and some boys among the soloists. Moreover, the performances are wonderfully fresh; the Academy of Ancient Music is a first-rate period-instrument orchestra, and the boys' voices -- schooled in the peerless English choral tradition -- lend a special holiday flavor to the sound. Among the fine soloists, countertenor Iestyn Davies sings a textured and touching "He Was Despised." One could pay far more for a "Messiah" and be much less delighted.



David Vickers
Gramophone, December 2006

Outstanding choirs but it's back to the start for a really fresh, joyful Messiah

Taking his cue from Handel's 1751 performances, Edward Higginbottom assigns all the soprano solos to some talented boy trebles from the Choir of New College, Oxford. Otta Jones's contribution to "He shall feed his flock" and Henry Jenkinson's "I know that my redeemer liveth" are lovely testaments to Higginbottom's crusading 30 years with his choir. At best, Higginbottom's choir produces some marvellous moments ("All we like sheep", and one of the finest "Amen" fugues on disc). Higginbottom's direction does not boil with dramatic intensity but instead simmers along with patience, elegant judgement and articulate tastefulness.

Some familiar music bears ripe fruit when taken a shade slower than has become common in recent times ("Glory to God" is splendid rather than hurried, and all the better for it). Ex-scholar Toby Spence is on fine form in "Rejoice greatly", and Iestyn Davies's poetic singing is another enjoyable feature, although I hankered for a more dramatic treatment of "shame and spitting" ("He was despised"). "The trumpet shall sound" resounds with David Blackadder's magnificent playing, and the Academy of Ancient Music play Handel's orchestral parts immaculately, often seeming gentler in quicker music here than on Christopher Hogwood's 1980 recording. This Naxos release will appeal to those who want an affordable Messiah that is beautifully played, brightly sung, sweetly satisfying and unashamedly English in its sentimental roots.




Laurence Vittes
Audiophile Audition, December 2006

It's more than 40 years since Colin Davis (for Philips) and Charles Mackerras (for EMI) recorded stunning versions of Handel's Messiah with their musicologically-inspired approaches to style and substance that turned out to be the leading edge of an industry-wide musical revolution in Baroque music.

While Davis' recording, swift and packing a tremendous choral punch, still has considerable merit, recent recordings by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Paul McCreesh have been leading a merry band of contenders for the best recorded Messiah. None, however, has quite the combination of positive factors going for it that this new version from Naxos does.

To begin with, according to conductor Edward Higginbottom, it's the "only modern account of Handel's unique London performances in April and May 1751." And what made those performances notable, Higginbottom says in his liner notes, is that the composer used, instead of women’s voices, treble voices drawn from the Chapel Royal for not only the choruses but the solo arias as well.

To recreate what Handel did two and a half centuries ago, Higginbottom selected three boys from the Choir of New College, Oxford, of which he is music director (for the tenor and bass soloists, he chose Toby Spence and Eamonn Dougan, both former clerks of the New College Choir).

The result is something quite unexpectedly triumphant: Quicksilver fast, and sparkling with jewel-like clarity, with a musical swing and a youthful exuberance that makes even the most stylistically alert and energetic of its competitors seem lead-footed by comparison. There is a moderate amount of embellishment which is elegant and delicious by turn, but never becoming so obtrusive as to distract from Handel's magnificent musical core. The choruses are a constant delight: "His yoke is easy" and "All we like sheep" are so brilliant with an infectious sense of sheer joy.

And joy is what this performance delivers in such relentless quantity that each chorus, each aria and each recitative is a musical adventure you will eagerly await. Occasionally, in the choruses, they boys get ahead of themselves, but that is rare and, in a way, enjoyable too.

The soloists are also outstanding, particularly Spence who anchors the performance in a way that rarely happens when the tenor must share the stage with two illustrious women soloists. Only when he tries to be gentle, as in the opening recitative, does he let the side down; otherwise, Spence is splendidly thrilling and, when needed, heroic. Dougan, countertenor Iestyn Davies and the three marvelous treble soloists—Henry Jenkinson, Otta Jones and Robert Brooks—show an equal appetite for the sounds of the words and the sense of the music.

Add an outstanding recording, made at St. John’s in London (just a touch dry but with beautiful vocal timbre and good spatial sense), and good liner notes, [and a bargain price!...Ed.] and you've got one of Naxos' proudest achievements. In the service of such great music, and at this time of year, this new yet timeless Messiah is really something for which to thank owner Klaus Heymann and his talented, hard-working team.



Naxos

One swallow may not mean a summer, but a sudden fistful of Messiahs surely heralds the onset of Christmas. This one brings a new variation to a familiar theme by offering a reconstruction of Handel’s London performances of April-May 1751, when he used trebles from the Chapel Royal for the arias as well as the choruses. Edward Higginbottom has drawn on his own choir, that of New College, Oxford, to recreate the ethereal soprano solos with boys’ voices, amid a collegiate ensemble much like the composer’s own.



Porter Anderson
CNN.com

It's more than 40 years since Colin Davis (for Philips) and Charles Mackerras (for EMI) recorded stunning versions of Handel's Messiah with their musicologically-inspired approaches to style and substance that turned out to be the leading edge of an industry-wide musical revolution in Baroque music.

While Davis' recording, swift and packing a tremendous choral punch, still has considerable merit, recent recordings by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Paul McCreesh have been leading a merry band of contenders for the best recorded Messiah. None, however, has quite the combination of positive factors going for it that this new version from Naxos does.

To begin with, according to conductor Edward Higginbottom, it's the "only modern account of Handel's unique London performances in April and May 1751." And what made those performances notable, Higginbottom says in his liner notes, is that the composer used, instead of women’s voices, treble voices drawn from the Chapel Royal for not only the choruses but the solo arias as well.

To recreate what Handel did two and a half centuries ago, Higginbottom selected three boys from the Choir of New College, Oxford, of which he is music director (for the tenor and bass soloists, he chose Toby Spence and Eamonn Dougan, both former clerks of the New College Choir).

The result is something quite unexpectedly triumphant: Quicksilver fast, and sparkling with jewel-like clarity, with a musical swing and a youthful exuberance that makes even the most stylistically alert and energetic of its competitors seem lead-footed by comparison. There is a moderate amount of embellishment which is elegant and delicious by turn, but never becoming so obtrusive as to distract from Handel's magnificent musical core. The choruses are a constant delight: "His yoke is easy" and "All we like sheep" are so brilliant with an infectious sense of sheer joy.

And joy is what this performance delivers in such relentless quantity that each chorus, each aria and each recitative is a musical adventure you will eagerly await. Occasionally, in the choruses, they boys get ahead of themselves, but that is rare and, in a way, enjoyable too.

The soloists are also outstanding, particularly Spence who anchors the performance in a way that rarely happens when the tenor must share the stage with two illustrious women soloists. Only when he tries to be gentle, as in the opening recitative, does he let the side down; otherwise, Spence is splendidly thrilling and, when needed, heroic. Dougan, countertenor Iestyn Davies and the three marvelous treble soloists—Henry Jenkinson, Otta Jones and Robert Brooks—show an equal appetite for the sounds of the words and the sense of the music.

Add an outstanding recording, made at St. John’s in London (just a touch dry but with beautiful vocal timbre and good spatial sense), and good liner notes, [and a bargain price!...Ed.] and you've got one of Naxos' proudest achievements. In the service of such great music, and at this time of year, this new yet timeless Messiah is really something for which to thank owner Klaus Heymann and his talented, hard-working team.






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10:11:27 AM, 13 July 2014
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