Le Concert Spirituel Orchestra & Chorus / Hervé Niquet

Handel: Messiah 1754

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Celebrating Le Concert Spirituel's 30th year, conductor Hervé Niquet leads the period-instruments ensemble and chorus in the 1754 Foundling Hospital Concert version of George Frederick Handel's Messiah, a vivid re-creation that features five vocal soloists. This deluxe package presents the oratorio on two CDs, issued in a hardcover book that explains not only the background of Messiah, but also Niquet's quasi-operatic interpretation, which emphasizes the spiritual drama of the work and removes it from the overly reverent tradition that prevailed from the 19th century until the 1980s. That Handel reworked his score on different occasions to make it suitable for the performers at hand is well known, though the 1754 version is the best documented of the early performances, providing the size of the orchestra and the chorus, and the precise instrumentation, including two horns. The vocalists -- sopranos Sandrine Piau and Katherine Watson, contralto Anthea Pichanick, tenor Rupert Charlesworth, and bass-baritone Andreas Wolf -- deliver their arias in the transpositions used at the concert, and the chorus of 27 voices is somewhat larger than the group Handel employed. The tempos are brisk and forward-leaning, with barely a gap between numbers, and the shortened Pifa (with an added pastoral drone) and "Why Do the Nations" reflect changes Handel made, perhaps to keep up momentum. Alpha's recorded sound is focused and reasonably close, notwithstanding the resonant acoustics of Notre-Dame-du-Liban de Paris that give the presentation a feeling of spaciousness. Highly recommended.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Messiah HWV 56
1 2:41
2 2:17
3 3:11
4 2:18
5 1:14
6 4:01
7 2:38
8 5:10
9 1:35
10 2:51
11 3:54
12 0:49
13 0:47
14 0:17
15 2:01
16 4:27
17 3:51
18 2:26

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Messiah HWV 56
1 2:01
2 7:22
3 1:25
4 1:42
5 3:26
6 0:34
7 1:52
8 1:05
9 1:07
10 0:14
11 2:10
12 3:09
13 1:28
14 2:54
15 1:11
16 2:02
17 1:10
18 1:17
19 1:45
20 1:50
21 3:22
22 5:06
23 1:45
24 0:24
25 3:58
26 1:09
27 2:39
28 4:19
29 6:31
blue highlight denotes track pick