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This is a generally fine account of a specific version of Messiah, namely that presented at its premiere in Fisher’s Music Hall, Dublin, in April 1742. When Handel composed in 1741 what would prove to be his most enduring work, he did not know the identity of his soloists. When he did eventually meet the solo cast, he discovered their strengths and weaknesses, and therefore needed to refashion some of the material: for example, the bass soloist, recruited from one of Dublin’s cathedral choirs, was not up to Handel’s original version of the rage aria ‘Why do the nations’, and it had to be cut in half. Most of us are now accustomed to the 1750 version of the score, so it comes as a surprise when the text appears to deviate from what we know.

Hans-Christoph Rademann and his small forces opt for nicely sprung rhythms, light articulation and neatly delivered divisions. Tempi are generally on the swiftside, but there are exceptions which are surprising: the opening of the Symphony, for example, or ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’. That said, ‘Let us break their bonds’ is delivered at a breakneck speed. But why does Rademann start the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus in such a low-key fashion? That the singers are not native English speakers is occasionally apparent, and the chorus’s flat (mis)pronunciation of ‘to’ in the opening chorus is more irritating on CD than it would be in live performance. None of the soloists is exceptional but each delivers a clean account of what Handel asks of them. It’s unclear how the alto duet version of ‘How beautiful are the feet’ is managed: no other alto is credited and as both sound like Benno Schachtner, it’s possible he duetted with himself.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica


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