RECORDINGS

LABEL: CONIFER CLASSICS
CATALOG NUMBER: 74321-153542
UPC NUMBER: 743211535427
NUMBER OF DISCS: 1
RUNNING TIME: 68:55
YEAR RECORDED: 1989
CD RELEASE DATE: 1992
CONDUCTOR: MARK STEPHENSON
ORCHESTRA: LONDON MUSICI
CHOIR: LONDON MUSICI CHAMBER CHOIR
SOPRANO: PATRIZIA KWELLA
CONTRALTO: CATHERINE DENLEY
TENOR: JOHN MARK AINSLEY
BASS: BRYN TERFEL


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DISC ONE

1. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Sinfonia
2. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Comfort Ye
3. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: No.3, Ev'ry Valley, aria
4. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: And The Gloryof the Lord
5. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Thus Saith the Lord
6. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: But Who May Abide
7. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: And He Shall Purify
8. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: For Unto us a Child is Born
9. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Pastoral Symphony
10. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: There Were Shepherds
11. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Glory To God
12. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Then Shall The Eyes Of The Blind / He Shall Feed His
13. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: All We Like Sheep
14. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: All They That See Him
15. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: He Trusted In God
16. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Why Do The Nations
17. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Let Us Break Their Bonds
18. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: He That Dwelleth In Heaven / Thou Shalt Break Them
19. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Hallelujah Chorus
20. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
21. Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56: Worthy Is The Lamb - Amen

SITE RATING:  5/10
SITE REVIEW:  The "highlights" Messiah offered by Conifer Classics (an imprint of the now-defunct BMG Music label) and released in 1992, has several points to recommend it: the soloists include luminaries John Mark Ainsley (tenor) and Bryn Terfel (bass); the orchestra and chorus, London Musici, are precise in their attacks and tempos, and the sound (recorded in 1989) is very good. In fact, I rather wish that this was a full "Messiah" rather than a simple highlights disc, but, at 21 tracks and nearly 70 minutes in length, it manages to gather most of the familiar solos and choruses onto one disc.

My problems with this performance are the tempos and dynamics, which tend to remain very cool and considered. For example, when the orchestra comes to the tempo change on the alto solo "But Who May Abide" it's a very quiet change, barely disturbing the calm waters of the verse when launching into what *should* be a tempestuous chorus. The same can be said of "And He Shall Purify" which glides along in a remote, detached manner, rather than engaging the listener with drama or passion.

And this detachment is not restricted to the chorus and orchestra, but extends to the soloists as well: John Mark Ainsley sounds pristine, but self-absorbed; and even Bryn Terfel, who is famous for his passionate readings, sings as if he's on a tight leash. The contralto, Catherine Denley, has a voice that is rich and "fruity" and thus is at odds with the cool British flavor of the chorus and orchestra. The soprano, Patrizia Kwella, sounds a bit swallowed, but has a marvellously clear tone on the high notes.

Strangely, the program drastically changes mood in the second half. "All We Like Sheep" and "He Trusted In God" are marvellous - brisk and energized, with lovely intonation - and "Why Do The Nations" allows Terfel to show off his impressive tessitura and vocal prowess. Similarly, "Let Us Break Their Bonds" is electrifying - as is a powerful, polished "Hallelujah". I wish more of these fiery moments had shown up in the first half of the program.

All in all, a dry and somewhat flavorless recording, at least in the first half, with director Mark Stephenson restraining everyone a bit too much for their own good, but in the second half of the recording, a breath of fresh air blows in, and creates some memorable magic. ~ BDW



The Compleat Messiah All Content Copyright 2015 Bret D. Wheadon
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