Winner of 2007 Gramophone Award, October 15, 2007
This recording of Messiah by the Dunedin Consort is based on a reconstruction of the original version premiered in Dublin in 1742. The Dublin version is rarely performed because the composer had simplified parts in deference to the vocal limitations of some of the local soloists, because it is not as complete as later versions of the score and because revisions Handel made after the first performance have become standard. This recording also seeks to duplicate the original performing forces as authentically as possible by having the soloists perform the choruses, as well, using a total of only 12 singers.
The result is remarkably and refreshingly intimate. In spite of the modesty of scale, conductor John Butt leads a reading that never sounds small or limited; the performers convey the full extent of the work's wide emotional range. The size of the chorus allows for an unusually light touch in the movements requiring choral coloratura, and the Dunedin Consort responds nimbly.
The soloists are all of the highest quality, with youthful-sounding voices more robust and less mannered than what one generally associates with the English oratorio tradition. Bass Matthew Brook's "But who may abide the Day of His Coming," is delivered with astonishing breath control and power. Nicholas Mulroy's virile tenor gives "Comfort ye," a welcome solidity. Contralto Clare Wilkinson sings "He shall feed His flock," with breathtaking poignancy, as intimately as a lullaby. Soprano Susan Hamilton sings "I know that my Redeemer liveth," with stunning simplicity and purity. Annie Gill's contralto is sweet and light in "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion."
All the soloists communicate with a naturalness and directness that create an unusually intense sense of drama; despite having disciplined and beautifully modulated voices, they sing as if they are telling a personal and deeply felt story, in the tradition of the best folk singers. The orchestra responds to Butt's leadership with a lively and well-balanced performance. The SACD recording is clear and present, and details emerge with the vivid characteristic of chamber music. In every aspect, this is one of the most compelling and engaging Messiahs on disc. Review by Stephen Eddins