How to Build a Classical CD Collection

34. Handel: Messiah

Handel, German-born and invited to London as a composer of Italian opera, succeeded in establishing a dominant choral form in his creation of English oratorio, a kind of work that combined the musical attractions of Italian opera with the virtues of an English religious text, eliminating the awkwardness of a foreign language and middle-class scruples and prejudices towards a form that Dr. Johnson later described as irrational and exotic. English oratorio appealed to a different and wider audience and was, in any case, very much cheaper to perform than the spectacular opera of the period. Messiah, first performed in Dublin in 1742, differs from opera also in its many fine choruses. The three parts of the work lead from meditation on the birth of Christ to his suffering, death and resurrection. The recommended excerpts are taken from a performance with the kind of numbers of singers and players that Handel himself would have used. Later traditions, starting towards the end of the eighteenth century, led to the use of vastly inflated choruses with orchestras of comparable size.

Recommended recording
Handel: Highlights from Messiah performed by the Scholars Baroque Ensemble. Naxos 8.553258

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