Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A brightly-lit classic with a refined aesthetic

Okay, here we go. The Christmas albums for review are starting to (virtually) pile up, and you all probably want some guidance about what to buy for Aunt Emma this year. Lots of great music this year! So pour the eggnog and rum and we'll get started. Pop by every so often during the next month to see what's on offer.

Let's start big and brash, shall we? Sir Andrew Davis has prepared a new, updated concert edition of Handel's Messiah. This version, to be released November 4, 2016, is on the Out There side of a line that goes from Absolutely HIP through Mozart's trombones-and-clarinets version to Eugene Goossen's notorious adaptation recorded in 1959 by Sir Thomas Beecham. Now I live mostly in the HIP world; there's nothing I like more than a gut string being played by a baroque bow without the slightest bit of vibrato. But I also love honest, expressive music, with full-throated, subtle singing and passionate, disciplined playing by world class musicians. There's plenty of that here, with the superlative Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra and four excellent vocal soloists. Davis brings his significant conducting expertise to bear synchronizing these  large forces in the reverberant Roy Thompson Hall, while the engineers give the usual Chandos sheen to the sound, which naturally favours the voices.

The whole production was recorded at a couple of live concerts from December 2015, where it seems everyone was having fun. The marketing team at the TSO called it a "Technicolour" Messiah. If the original Messiah is a black and white classic masterpiece, the new edition is bright and sumptuous, but not a garish widescreen blockbuster from the 50s. It has a more refined aesthetic than that, more like a Powell and Pressburger classic. We notice the clever orchestral chiaroscuro and introduction of novelties like the marimba and sleigh bells because we know this music so well, but it's not only the new colours we notice, but the amazing musical ideas and structures underneath. Those are all Handel, lit up by Sir Andrew.

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