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David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2017

Living in a small area of England where every Christmas we have upward of twenty performances of Handel’s Messiah, I know it well in every one of its many guises. From the major concert halls using a large chorus and orchestra, they go down in size to the supposedly ‘period performance’ for a handful performers in small churches. Then we have different ‘original score’ versions, as Handel scholars will always argue as to that definition, and presently we have a glut of ‘period instrument’ performances that conveniently forget we have not the slightest idea of the vocal quality that existed in Handel’s time. And so it goes on, each one hoping that their version will catch the attention of a potential audience. So why have this long prelude to a performance filmed in the magnificent Basilica Stift Klosterneuburg in Lower Austria last year? Simply to say that you will no doubt have your own idea how the work should sound, and this one comes under the heading of a ‘sacred chamber music version’, and was presented, not at Christmas, but at Handel’s appropriate time of Easter. The Salzburger Bachchor here numbers twenty-two, the Bach Consort Wien is of a similar size, their combined strength somewhat boosted by the very sizeable reverberation of the venue. The stage was cramped and so small that the four soloists have to make an entry and exit as their individual Airs demand, the robust voice of the German tenor, Michael Schade, setting the scene in the opening Comfort ye, my people. The Italian alto, Gala Petrone, makes a good opening impression with her forthright But who may abide, while Christian Immler potently captures Why do the nations so furiously rage together. Add the pleasing soprano of Hanna Herfurtner, and the solo line-up is satisfying, all avoiding the fanciful ornamentation of the vocal line that is now becoming fashionable. Yet it is the choir that gave me the greatest pleasure, their good intonation, perfect balance, and an English diction that would shame many British choral groups being most welcome. Rubén Dubrovsky, mouths the words as he conducts, his tempos which are initially a little cautious becoming more urgent as the work progresses, his Hallelujah and the final Worthy is the Lamb both being very powerful statements. Looking at the dress of the audience it must have been a freezing cold March evening, but the filming captures the gorgeous Baroque venue replete with its profusion of gold decoration, and if visually it gets far too close to the soloists, the sound quality is very good. Strangely the world is not awash with Messiahs on DVD, and if you want one in the so-called ‘period style’, then go for this. © 2017 David’s Review Corner

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