The last quarter of the 20th century witnessed a surge of interest in early music and historically informed performances, and one of the Baroque masterpieces that benefitted the most was George Frederick Handel's Messiah, which virtually everyone involved with the movement for authentic period practice reinterpreted and recorded. Neville Marriner and his Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields recorded this engaging version of the popular oratorio in 1992 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Handel's Dublin premiere, and the live performance is notable for its small orchestra and lean chorus, as well as for its revitalized rhythms, crisp sonorities, and spontaneous ornamentation. A streamlined Messiah is closer to Handel's original intentions than the gigantic post-Romantic versions presented by large choral societies and conventional symphony orchestras. Yet because Handel constantly made changes to Messiah and adapted it to changing ensembles and the needs of available vocal soloists, there is no established, final text that can be given an accurate Baroque performance. Marriner's clarification of lines and textures and his scholarly approach put his performance in the authenticist category, even though the Academy plays modern instruments and is not technically a period orchestra. To that end, Marriner's rendition is as close as many groups' performances, and despite the lack of Baroque instrumentation, it still convinces. The soloists are excellent in their embellishment of their arias, and their expressions are reassuringly familiar, though the standout is Anne Sofie von Otter, whose affecting singing is a highlight of this recording.
George Frideric Handel: Messiah Review
by Blair Sanderson