CD Review: Handel’s Messiah – Sir Andrew Davis

Andrew Fletcher,, UK

Sir Andrew Davis claims that for this new concert edition, he wanted to do a ‘grand’ version, and sought to “keep Handel’s notes, harmonies and style intact, but to make use of all the colours available from the modern symphony orchestra”. This goal is achieved, with an overall ‘bright’ feel that is vital, fresh and exuberant, but not overcooked.

The tenor (Andrew Staples) is phrased in beautiful cohesion with the orchestra, whose own performance is executed with enviable subtlety. The sense of space, especially in the brass and woodwinds, makes everything nestle quite snugly. The choir is well balanced and not overly fore-fronted. Track 7 is a choral showpiece and contrasts with an almost underpowered organ – although by the end, the instrumental balance makes a lot more sense.

There are moments of pure joy (track 9), which more than justify the occasional crashing volume peak. The themes are woven to give a sense of temporal as well as spatial presence. Track 12 is deeply celebratory, and the unusual string arrangement exudes confident assurance.
Quiet sections (track 10) convey bristling expectation and these more pastoral moments are notable for their simplicity in comparison to the more dominant ‘cosmopolitan’ sections.

Disc 2 projects a more sombre tone. The full chorus is in action here; various registers swimming around one another menacingly. The funereal pace is not too far from Purcell, and the overall sense is a return to more conservative styling. This bleak grandiosity continues in track three, although the pace becomes more urgent. Things seem a bit Russian here and some humour is present in the ‘All we like sheep have gone astray’. Transitions from light-heartedness to sombreness are seamless and ‘Sheep’ ends on an unexpectedly beautiful cadence.

Read the full review on the NE:MM website.

Get more information on the Messiah Chandos recording.