Handel: Messiah, The Dream Cast (CD review)

Various artists. Decca B00002042-02.

If you were a really big record company, like Decca, and you had a vault full of old recordings, as Decca has, you, too, would probably want to think of ways of repackaging and selling your stuff again. So it is with this Messiah, made up of bits and pieces of Decca’s older Messiahs. The gimmick works better than you might expect.

Using seventy-seven minutes’ worth of highlights, the folks at Decca present us with ten different bands, choruses, and conductors, and seven different soloists, each doing a separate movement of George Frideric Handel’s familiar work. The problem I foresaw, and which I daresay you also see, was how all of these seemingly disparate elements were going to hang together; I mean, period and modern instruments, big and little ensembles, fairly recent (2001) and not-so-recent (1966) recordings. Yet it does work, sort of.

In the first place, the Decca engineers have apparently doctored the audio slightly so that most of the pieces at least sound similar. Unfortunately, this seems to have taken the bloom off some of the proceedings, dulling a few of the older period-instrument recordings in particular to take the edge off them and put them better in line sonically with their smoother, modern-instrument counterparts. They have also tried to match the playback levels as well as possible to ensure fluid transitions between movements. The result is not exactly of audiophile quality, but it’s listenable.

As to the music, at the very least you get to hear a variety of recordings, any one of which you might want to go out and buy as a complete set, which is, I’m sure, what the Decca brass are counting on. In any case, to name a few of the participants, you’ve got John Eliot Gardiner and his English Baroque Soloists opening the show, followed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy, Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony, Richard Bonynge and the English Chamber Orchestra, Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony, Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and so on. Marriner and the Academy players perform the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and Sir Colin Davis and the LSO close the show. Soloists include Arleen Auger, Jerry Hadley, Anne Sofie von Otter, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Bryn Terfel.

Imposing.

I dunno, though. It may be a dream cast, as the subtitle proclaims, but it’s also more than a tad disconcerting. Just when you get to like one singer or group, up pops somebody else. I’d say it’s a novelty more than anything. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad novelty.

To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa