Classical CD Reviews
HANDEL: Messiah (complete); Bonus disc from other Coro recordings – Carolyn Sampson, soprano/ Catherine Wyn-Rogers, alto/ Mark Padmore, tenor/ Christopher Purves, baritone/ The Sixteen/ Harry Christophers, conductor – Coro
Published on January 10, 2009
HANDEL: Messiah (complete); Bonus disc from other Coro recordings – Carolyn Sampson, soprano/ Catherine Wyn-Rogers, alto/ Mark Padmore, tenor/ Christopher Purves, baritone/ The Sixteen/ Harry Christophers – Coro 16062 (3 CDs), 206:13 ***** [Distr. by Allegro]:
Okay kiddies, here it is; I’ve been waiting for it, you’ve been waiting for it, there have been so many Messiah recordings with so many special attributes, and yet here it is—the very best-sung modern recording on the market. Yes, it surprised me; certainly not by the quality of the Sixteen, who have been churning out great recordings for years. But I did not expect the power and absolute authority of the chorus in the work, or the greatness of the solo singing, surely the best I have heard since the late 1960s’ Davis version on Philips, or the RCA Shaw. Carolyn Sampson, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, and Mark Padmore are all Sixteen alumni and have all gone on to big time careers, and here they pour their hearts and considerable talent into this recording, which must have had a huge sentimental aspect to it, having sung it so many times with Christophers, who himself has conducted this piece over 150 times (and claims to never tire of it).
I am not exaggerating about this solo work—each person is solidly on target with radiant voices and tremendously affecting emotion, masters all, and who know this work as none others. Christopher Purves’s baritone is no slouch either, giving us one of the finest The Trumpet shall sound that I have ever heard. The orchestra plays as though Handel had written it for them, and the fact that this is a period band registers not at all, or at least only in a good way; in many ways this is an old-fashioned effort, because tempos are taken sensibly and not according to preconceived dogma, and the whole feels as natural and even necessary as sunshine on a clear day.
I compared this to another recent issue, by the wonderful Dunedin Consort on Linn Recordings, a group and label that have been turning out terrific releases after terrific releases, and on SACD as well. However, I must say that the Sixteen in comparison completely outdoes John Butt’s group. Again, especially in the solo singing, the Coro release is miles beyond the Linn. Even in the sound department this new Coro release tops the surround sound version on Linn with its vivid, forcefully presented sonics.
As a bonus we are treated to some selections from other Coro releases involving Handel, welcome and tantalizing samples that do their job and make you want to investigate this wonderful group’s efforts even further. I don’t care how many Messiahs you may own (and I think I have kept 12)—you have to have this one.
– Steven Ritter