George Frideric Handel and His Messiah: The Perfect Holiday Collection
Confident and swift, McCreesh and the gang turn in a Messiah for the 21st Century. Superbly executed, this thoughtful performance uses the SSATB soloist ensemble favored by Handel toward the end of his life. The sound and sonics are full and bright, even with the period instruments. 1754 Version on period instruments and historically informed performance.
Academy of Ancient Music / Sir Christopher Hogwood
The first Messiah recorded on period instruments with a choir of men and boys. This may be as close to the perfect Messiah in spirit, but the recording is distant, making the strings a bit weak. Still, a fine performance, Emma Kirkby and the rest of the Period Performance Mafia are present. This is essential because it is the Messiah that started it all. 1754 Version on period instruments and historically informed performance.
Concentus Musicus Wein and Stockholm Kammerkoren / Nickolas Harnoncort
This 1982 live recording continues to be well received. Harnoncort, an enfant terrible of period practice makes no attempt to finish Messiah under two hours. Harnoncort chooses the original SATB soloist ensemble as vehicle for a thoughtful, evenly-paced performance. Transparent and beautiful even if the soloists are a bit accented. 1742 Version on period instruments and historically informed performance.
Boston Baroque / Martin Pearlman
America's premiere period instrument ensemble, the Boston Baroque has made several notable recordings of Renaissance and Baroque favorites. None has been better than their Messiah. Opting for the 1942 Dublin version, Pearlman and his group (SATB) provide a rich and precise reading. 1742 Version on period instruments and historically informed performance.
Bach Collegium Japan / Masaaki Suzuki
This shimmering, near-perfect performance is provided by none other than a Japanese ensemble. Maestro Suzuki learned his craft from Ton Koopman and learned it well. Perfect tempi and sonics. The Brilliant countertenor Yoshikazu Mera is on hand also. Check out BCJ/Suzuki's J.S. Bach Christmas Oratorio (BIS 941/942). 1753 Covent House Version on period instruments and historically informed performance.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Thomas Beecham
It is safe to say that the savvy period performance Messiah scholar will have never heard anything like this. Re-elaborated by Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Eugene Goossens, this Messiah has all of the pre-1960s excesses one would expect from a predominantly Post-Romantic conductor. Beecham's version is performed by a cast of thousands and is loud and proud, just like the Saxon who composed the piece. Modern instruments and a splendidly historically uninformed performance.
BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Sir Thomas Beecham
The first sound recording of Messiah. Severely edited, replete with pops and scratches from the acetate transfers, this performance is a revelation when one compares this performance to all that came after. This will scare most to death, but to hear the alpha of a musical piece recorded for posterity, this should be in everyone's collection. Modern instruments and again a splendidly historically uninformed performance.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus / Sir Georg Solti
Always tasteful, Solti and the CSO coax a warmth from Messiah that only modern instruments can provide. Not overtly Romantic, Solti's performance is powerful without being overpowering. It is an excellent foil to Beecham's vision with more body than a period instrument performance. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is wonderful. John Tobin Edition on modern instruments and a sensible middle of the road treatment.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus / Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw was America's premiere choral conductor. It should come as no surprise that his Messiah would be both tasteful and beautiful. Opting for smaller rather than larger, Shaw puts together a well-balanced Messiah where all parts are permitted to breath, providing a warm modern instrument sound coming from a historically-informed orchestra. Modern instruments, modern performance, on a smaller than modern scale.
English Chamber Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras
Mackerras is one of the few conductors to take on both Handel's original and Mozart's refurbished Messiah. His Handel original is thoroughly modern, like Shaw's, but with a larger orchestra. An interesting reading that is way above average. Fans of Mackerras will want to have this fine performance. Modern instruments, modern performance, on a modern scale.
Trinity Choir and Orchestra / Owen Burdick