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Ten “Messiah” Recordings for a Handel Year

Notable recordings of George Frideric Handel's oratorio "Messiah."

handel play the lyre

Photo: anotherpushpin/Bernard Gordillo

An image of the Handel statue by Louis François Roubiliac, 1738 (Victoria and Albert Museum).

George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah is one the most famous classical compositions ever written and one of the most oft-recorded choral works of the last century. Trying to find a good recording might seem a little daunting, but rest assured that one or more is out there to suit you.

The Sixteen

Of the most recent period instrument recordings on offer, Harry Christophers and the Sixteen are not only exceptional, but, as their second recording of Messiah, their latest shows that the ensemble is one of the finest in the world.

Gabrieli Consort and Players

Just over a decade ago, the Gabrieli Consort and Players under the direction of Paul McCreesh released what was then an eye-opening interpretation of Messiah. The recording exudes a terrific and unique energy with fantastic line-up of soloists and a great orchestra. Their subsequent recordings of Handel oratorios have, like Messiah, also been highly praised and rightfully so.

Bach Collegium Japan

The Bach Collegium Japan’s BIS label recording of Messiah may be the first of its kind for a Japanese ensemble. And just like their Bach Cantata series, their performance is terrific and full of spirit. I especially enjoyed countertenor Yoshikazu Mera’s performance, and, in particular, of the air “But who may abide.”

Dunedin Consort and Players

The Dunedin Consort and Players is a dynamic ensemble from Scotland. They offer an excellent performance under the direction of John Butt. Their Linn label recording, based on the Dublin version of 1742, is notable for its youthful and exacting beauty.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

There are a number of North American ensembles who have recorded Messiah. At the top of the list is the 1992 Harmonia Mundi release by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (directed by Nicholas McGegan). They offer an unusual version of Messiah, including all of the alternate movements that Handel composed. In other words, you can put together any version that you might like.

Choir of Clare College, Cambridge with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

Director Rene Jacobs and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, have had a number of successful partnerships, not least of which is their 2006 release of Messiah. Accompanied by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the performance is world-class and just what we’ve come to expect from a Jacobs recording.

Les Musiciens du Louvre

Les Musiciens du Louvre is one of a few French period ensembles to record Messiah. Directed by Marc Minkowski, the performance certainly breaks a few speed records, but is also the first Messiah recording to feature tenor soloist John Mark Ainsley.

The English Concert

If any recording of Messiah can be called ideal, it’s the English Concert’s 1990 Archiv release. Yes, it’s traditional in many ways, with few bells, whistles, and fireworks, but its cool beauty and peacefulness is worth listening to over and over again.

Concentus Musicus Wien and the Taverner Consort and Players

Our final two recordings, like the previous ones, are on the list for their special qualities. As you might have noticed, there isn’t just one great recording, but many to choose from. The 2005 RCA release by the Concentus Musicus Wien is just as good as the one from the last decade by the Taverner Consort and Players. It all depends on what you’re looking for in general. Calm and dignified? Stately? Loud and frenetic? No matter what you like, the ten on our list are just starting point and all well worth a serious listen.

Music Heard On This Episode

G.F. Handel: Chorus “And the glory of the Lord”
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers — Messiah (Coro, 2008)
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G.F. Handel: Chorus “And the glory of the Lord”
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers — Messiah (Coro, 2008)
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G.F. Handel: Aria “Ev’ry valley”
The Gabrieli Consort and Players/Paul McCreesh — Messiah (Archiv, 1997)
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G.F. Handel: Aria “But who may abide”
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki — Messiah (BIS, 1997)
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G.F. Handel: Chorus “Lift up your heads”
Dudedin Consort and Players/John Butt — Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742) (Linn, 2006)
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G.F. Handel: Aria “Thou art gone up on high” (alternate version)
Philharmonia Baroque/Nicholas McGegan — Messiah (HMC, 1992)
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G.F. Handel: Chorus “Let all the angels of God”
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Rene Jacobs — Messiah (HMC, 2006)
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G.F. Handel: Recit. “He that dwelleth” and Aria “Thou shalt break them”
Les Musicien du Louvre/Marc Minkowski — Messiah (Archiv, 2001)
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G.F. Handel: Chorus “Hallelujah”
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock — Messiah (Archiv, 1990)
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G.F. Handel: Aria “I know that my redeemer liveth”
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt — Messiah (RCA, 2005)
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G.F. Handel: Chorus “Worthy is the lamb”
Taverner Consort and Players/Andrew Parrott — Messiah (EMI, 2000)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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