SITE RATING: 9/10
There is little to fault and much to praise in
Sir Neville Marriner's 1976 recording of Messiah.
Based on the first performed 1742 "Dublin" version, there are
small changes which first-time listeners may not be familiar with, but
the performance is so finely finessed that I suspect most won't
mind. This recording consistently rates very highly with
purchasers every year, and upon listening, it's easy to understand why:
The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields plays with great
vigor, yet restraint; and despite preceding the period-instrument
revival of the mid-eighties by
several years, Sir Neville uses smaller forces, much like the
period instrumentalists, and Marriner's tempi are more in-line with
later "revivalist" performances, eschewing the then-dominant largess.
But unlike Hogwood's recording, the Academy of St.
Martin-in-the-Fields uses modern instruments, giving this Messiah
a far fuller, richer sound than can be found in period instrumentation.
In a way, it's this performance that can be looked at as the
progenitor to Christopher Hogwood's 1980 recording, and in many ways,
it is to be preferred, with the recording simply one of the finest
balanced and most pleasing overall. Sir Neville avoids the
pitfalls of over-stylization, preferring to give a clean, delineated
performance which manages to hit all the bases. The soloists
are uniformly fine, sounding neither affected or diffident; rich,
without sounding heavy or forced, or alternately too clean and bright;
in fact, it's difficult to pick out any
singular performance - it's such a "whole cloth" Messiah that every
piece of the ensemble fits neatly into the unity of the musical fabric.
My only criticism would be that the performance is so neat,
so well-mannered, and so perfect, that it feels at times a little
unreal. Highly recommended. ~ BDW