Messiah Complete (Vocal Music), by Handel
It almost seems superfluous to review the content of such an album of this. This album is a two-cd version of Handel’s Messiah that bills itself as complete and that provides a very enjoyable listen. Like many people, my appreciation for this particular piece of music comes both from having sung a great deal of the songs as well as having heard them. And if you have that sort of experience this is definitely something that you will appreciate. The voices are in good form and the instrument playing is great and that is certainly exactly what one would both expect and want from a collection like this one. If I have one criticism about the piece, it is not in the playing or singing itself, which is certainly very good, but rather in the mixing of the cd. The soft sections of this album are extremely soft, to the point where I had to put the sound level up to about 25 (the usual level is about ten) in order to hear. Part of that problem seems to be due to the fact that this recording is made with only four main voices, and there are definitely some parts of the recording where it would have been better to have some stronger microphones there.
This particular album is divided into three parts and two cds, and the book contains not only the two discs but liner notes that give a fair amount of information about the songs in question, including the voices in the part as well as the text that is repeated by them over and over again. It is interesting to note what is not included in the liner notes, though, and that is a list of the titles of the songs (most of which have been given titles by the opening lines of the songs, or the Hallelujah Chorus, which is pretty similar in that regard). Max Emanuel Cencic is the soprano, giving a male soprano that many people might find to be somewhat unusual. Charles Humphries serves as a fairly high-voiced countertenor. Ivan Sharpe is the tenor, and Robert Torday is the bass. I am not familiar with any of the names but they all sing well even if somewhat softly at times as noted above. In addition to this there are vocals by the Vienna Boys’ Choir, which does as great job on the choruses, and music is provided as well by some players from the Academy of London conducted by Peter Marshik, who again do a good job.
It has always been interesting to me that the Messiah should be the best known oratorio in existence, even though it is extremely atypical for the genre in that it lacks a story. A great many people are unfamiliar with the larger body of oratorios that exists and so it does not seem strange that this particular one is so full of interesting meditations on the Savior as a child and as a sacrificial savior and as Lord and King. These are, to be sure, not bad things at all to ponder, and it makes Messiah one of the more religious oratorios that one can find (although it must be admitted that many oratorios have religious content–Handel himself wrote other religious ones, if not nearly as famous as the Messiah), and it is interesting that the piece was originally viewed as problematic by religious people in England because it was thought improper that secular music composed by a not particularly religious composer like Handel would be played in churches. At this point, the song is viewed as being Christian and so Handel’s own morality or lack thereof is not viewed as being a problem at all.