George Frideric Handel and His Messiah: The Perfect Holiday Collection
Burdick's Messiah is brand spanking new. Owen Burdick is the organist/director of music at New York City's Trinity Church, where Messiah received its New World debut in 1770. This is a sumptuous sensual version of the oratorio. The solos and choruses are full and warm. The orchestration is handsomely and intelligently rendered on a reduced scale. Modern instruments, modern performance, on a historically informed scale. Superior sonics.
Bach Collegium Stuttgart / Helmuth Rilling
Rilling and his Bach Collegium Stuttgart may be best known for their recording of the complete Bach Cantatas. He is a certainly an avowed Baroque conductor in modern instruments. Fittingly, he chooses the Mozart arrangement in Mozart's original German. The sound is broad and expansive and the vocals are exceptional. Mozart orchestral arrangement on modern instruments with modern performance.
Handel and Haydn Society / Andrew Parrott
Sung in English as opposed to Mozart's original German, this Messiah distinguishes itself by its pristine period instrument sound. Authentic right down to the use of a forte-piano continuo, this Mozart Messiah is very fine. Andrew Parrott makes a version as fine as his previous Handel version with his Taverner Orchestra and Chorus (Virgin Veritas Imports, 61330, 2000). Mozart orchestral arrangement on period instruments and historically informed performance.
London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Colin Davis
Philips Duo 438 356-2
Hands down the best modern instrument performance of Messiah. Distinguishes itself by its perfect time. Sir Colin, twenty years on, still hangs on to the best of modern performances. As very fine as Sir Christopher Hogwood's original period instrument offering is, it still cannot surpass Davis' stunning performance. Composite Performance.
Taverner Choir and Orchestra / Sir Andrew Parrott
Virgin Vertas 3420354
Pristine period instrument sound. Authentic right down to the use of a forte-piano continuo, this Messiah is exquisite. Andrew Parrott makes a version as fine as his previous Handel version with his Taverner Orchestra and Chorus re-released from the original (Virgin Veritas Imports, 61330, 2000). Period instruments and historically informed performance.
English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir / Sir John Gardiner
Originally recorded in 1982 by a young John Elioti Gardiner, this Messiah is a daring iconoclast that barrels ass into everyone's unconscious, making the listener re-think all that has come before. The most superb period instrument performance on record.
Messiah is one of the most visible of classical music compositions. Literally thousands of performances are given around the world, mostly at Christmas and Easter. It is a religious tradition firmly embraced by the secular tradition. Beautifully, some things transcend even the realpolitik and religious. It has been interpreted, re-interpreted, considered, re-considered, studied and re-studied. It comes in as many different flavors as performances and because of this provides something for everyone.
The theologian Stanley Hauerwas, when speaking of the biblical tale, wrote:
God has entrusted us, His Church, with the best story in the world. With great ingenuity we have managed, with the aid of much theory, to make that story boring as hell. Theories about meaning are what you get when you forget that the Church and Christians are embattled by subtle enemies who win easily by denying that any war exists.
And it is so with Handel's Messiah. No less the divinely inspired word, Messiah and its scholarship and theory have a place in providing alternate ways of considering the oratorio, but these alternatives in themselves are not an end, the music is.
This list will certainly not contain everyone's favorite Messiah. I own some thirty performances and have listened to a good many more. These are what are currently floating at the top.