Monday, December 28, 2015
Georg Friedrich Handel: The Messiah
Of course, this being the Christmas season, it seems natural to focus on Handel's great oratorio, The Messiah, because of its association with the holiday. And, this is an undeniable masterpiece by one of the giants of the Baroque period.
Filled with gorgeous overtures, including the phenomenal "Pastoral Symphony" and a rich array of solo and ensemble choral works, such as the beautiful "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings" and, of course, the famed "Hallelujah Chorus," the work is a high-water mark of Handel's illustrious career and of Baroque music generally.
Notably, the German-born composer struggled to find an audience and decent financial support in his homeland, but his arrival in England signaled a stunning change in fortune. In fact, his career there was such that he is today thought of as a British composer.
The liner notes to this 1979 recording as reissued in 2002 suggest that Handel was "known universally for his generosity and charity for those who suffered" even when he was experiencing financial problems. Moreover, the remarks continued, "he was a relentless optimist whose faith in God sustained him through every difficulty."
An Irish charitable organization commissioned the composer for a piece that they could use at a benefit concern and The Mesiah was the remarkable result. Not only was the concert a success, raising over 400 pounds used to free almost 150 men from debtor's prison (this exactly a century before such prisons were the focal point of Dickens' A Christmas Carol), but the work became a lasting holiday musical tradition, whether a person is religious or not.
Handel went on to conduct nearly three dozen performances of the work, including some for the benefit of London's Foundling Hospital, and the use of the piece for charitable purposes led Patrick Kavanaugh, a biographer of the composer, to note that it was so used "more than any other single musical production in this [Britain] or any other country."
The version released by Sparrow Records in the late Seventies was specifically orchestrated under the baton of conductor John Alldis with The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir to be more accesible to modern audiences. It is an excellent recording and the four soloists, soprano Felicity Lott, contralto Alfreda Hodgson, tenor Philip Langridge and bassist Ulrik Cold deserve kudos for their excellent work, as well.