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Handel's MessiahCatherine Wyn-Rogers
Huddersfield Choral Society
Mark Le Brocq
The Huddersfield Choral Society continue their esteemed relationship with Signum Records with arguably the best-loved musical work of all time Messiah, more than two and a half centuries on from that celebrated first performance in Dublin’s New Music Hall in April 1742.
Huddersfield Choral Society has come to be known as one of the top choral societies in the UK. A recent review of Messiah in concert reads:
“Conducted by Jane Glover, it moved at the brisk pace that we now expect... The singers of the Choral Society continue to demonstrate that, trained by chorus master Joseph Cullen, they have the technical ability to resolve the dichotomy of being a large choir, equipped for monumental, Victorian oratorio performances, yet must sing with the rhythmic responsiveness, the clarity and the lightness of touch, that has become the norm. The orchestra was the Northern Sinfonia; and it is hard to believe that – apart from specialist baroque ensembles – there is a band which is better equipped to accompany current Messiah performances.” Huddersfield Examiner
What people are saying
Huddersfield Choral Society
Elizabeth Watts, soprano
Mark Le Brocq, tenor
Catherine Wyn-Rogers, alto
James Oldfield, bass
Jane Glover, conductor
2 CD Set
Release date: 28th Mar 2011
Order code: SIGCD246
|3.||Accompagnato: Comfort Ye (tenor)|
|4.||Song: Every Valley (tenor)|
|5.||Chorus: And the Glory of the Lord|
|6.||Accompagnato: Thus saith the Lord (bass)|
|7.||Song: But who may abide (alto)|
|8.||Chorus: And He shall purify|
|9.||Recitative: Behold, a virgin shall conceive (alto)|
|10.||Song & Chorus: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (alto)|
|11.||Accompagnato: For behold, darkness shall cover the earth (bass)|
|12.||Song: The people that walked in darkness (bass)|
|13.||Chorus: For unto us a Child is born|
|14.||Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)|
|15.||Recitative - There were shepherds (soprano)|
|16.||Accompagnato: And lo, the Angel of the Lord (soprano)|
|17.||Recitative: And the Angel said unto them (soprano)|
|18.||Accompagnato: And suddenly there was with the Angel (soprano)|
|19.||Chorus: Glory to God in the highest|
|20.||Song: Rejoice greatly (soprano)|
|21.||Song: He shall feed His flock (alto & soprano)|
|22.||Recitative: Then shall the eyes of the blind (alto)|
|23.||Chorus: His yoke is easy|
|24.||Chorus: Behold the Lamb of God|
|25.||Song: He was despised (alto)|
|26.||Chorus: Surely, He hath borne our griefs|
|27.||Chorus: And with His stripes|
|28.||Chorus: All we like sheep have gone astray|
|29.||Accompagnato: All they that see Him (tenor)|
|30.||Chorus: He trusted in God|
|31.||Accompagnato: Thy rebuke hath broken His heart (tenor)|
|32.||Song: Behold and see (tenor)|
|33.||Accompagnato: He was cut off (tenor)|
|34.||Song: But Thou didst not leave (tenor)|
|35.||Chorus: Lift up your heads|
|36.||Song: Thou art gone up on high (alto)|
|37.||Chorus: The Lord gave the word|
|38.||Song: How beautiful are the feet (soprano)|
|39.||Chorus: Their sound is gone out into all lands|
|40.||Song: Why do the nations so furiously rage (bass)|
|41.||Chorus: Let us break their bonds asunder|
|42.||Recitative: He that dwelleth in Heaven (tenor)|
|43.||Song: Thou shalt break them (tenor)|
|45.||Song: I know that my Redeemer liveth (soprano)|
|46.||Chorus: Since by man came death|
|47.||Accompagnato: Behold, I tell you a mystery (bass)|
|48.||Song: The trumpet shall sound (bass)|
|49.||Duet: O death, where is thy sting? (alto & tenor)|
|50.||Recitative: Then shall be brought to pass (alto)|
|51.||Chorus: But thanks be to God|
|52.||Song: If God be for us (soprano)|
|53.||Chorus: Worthy is the Lamb|
The Times, April 2011
George Bernard Shaw said it should be a capital offence to perform Messiah with more than 80 musicians, and protested against the Victorians' “attempts to make the brute force of a thousand throats do what can only be done with artistic insight and skill”. His dream has been fulfilled. Yet the old tradition lives on, though, judging by this splendid account, recorded in Huddersfield last December, it has been refined by the influence of the early-music movement. The buoyant chorus, under Glover's incisive direction, goes from strength to strength. Four vigorous soloists play their part, especially the tenor Mark Le Brocq and the soprano Elizabeth Watts, particularly fine in If God Be for Us.
Choir & Organ Magazine, May/June 2011
In an interview ten years ago, Jane Glover confessed she'd done Messiah some 50 times, but liked to address it always to the audience member who'd never heard it before. She does that here, delivering an unfussy and unadorned reading that gives Handel a vernacular immediacy that is profoundly appealing. It's a crowded market, inevitably, but Glover's emphasis on firm tempi and natural articulation pushes this version to the head of the queue, for newcomers and adepts alike. In that same interview, she claimed to prefer listening to playbacks on cassette in her car, to hear the performance as a whole, rather than focus on any chinks a clean CD might throw up. There are flaws here, arguably, but they aren't structural: this is a rugged and utterly musical Messiah.
Classic FM Magazine, July 2011
The Music. In the spring of 1741, Handel apparently considered returning to his German homeland. He remained in London, however, to set 'another scripture collection'. The 'subject is Messiah', explained librettist Charles Jennens. Handel's new work went on to become the best-known of all English oratorios, a staple of British choral and cultural life.
International Record Review, June 2011
Huddersfield Choral society is 175 years young this year; and Handel's Messiah has been one of its mainstays for most if not quite all that time. This is why this recording, made at a live concert one night last December, does not begin, as you might reasonably expect, with the familiar Overture and then the tenor's 'Comfort ye' but with a hymn, John Wainwright's Christians awake, salute the happy morn. It makes for a very touching start and, irrespective of whether or not the audience joined in, it moves along briskly and the ensemble is fine (so maybe it didn't). What a fine tradition! Surely it must make everyone in Huddersfield Town Hall, believer or not, feel deeply involved. It's nice to have it preserved. It is also a timely reminder that what we have here is not going to be a performance crafted in the studio for repeated hearing but more of a snap-shot, not just of a hallowed Christmas rituJal but of a famous British choir in just its latest incarnation.
If, thanks to some time-travel machine as yet uninvented, those who heard a nineteenth-century Huddersfield Messiah could be transported to today, some of them would doubtless claim not to recognize what they would be hearing. All the same I don't think they would be turning in their graves: after all, Handel's masterpiece soon has you in its grip and stylistic foibles tend to melt away. Where might they at least frown? At the orchestra, possibly: here, a relatively modest-sized string band (but more than sufficient for the choir), using minimal vibrato, with highly articulated phrasing at the expense of seamless Victorian legato. A double-dotted crotchet is often cut short to allow the following upbeat to stand proud: this is Jane Glover allowing plenty of light and air into the textures. More power to her baton, say I. This, by the way, is a modern-, not period-instrument performance. Her chosen tempos are probably brisk by nineteenth-century standards, but not by a twenty-first-century yardstick. 'But who may abide the day of His coming?' doesn't really threaten at her moderate speed as it surely should. By contrast she cracks her whip at 'He trusted in God' very vigorously indeed.
The Huddersfield Choral Society surely knows this music inside out. You can sense the sheer discipline that has gone into its preparation: full marks to chorus master Joseph Cullen, who doubles on harpsichord in this performance, for getting this large body to be aware of the need for absolute precision in some of Handel's not-always-easy choruses: the words so cunningly crafted by the librettist Charles Jennens come through clearly. 'All we like sheep', for instance, is well thought through: a good staccato for the first two notes but then slightly fuller value on 'like' and a minute gap before 'sheep', so that there is, again, air in the texture; but the result is not prissy or emasculated.
Not everything's perfect. Once or twice, or even thrice, the choral sound is woolly and unfocused. The semiquavers of 'And he shall purify' prove a bit of a challenge even at Glover's steady tempo. The lowest point of all is the basses' initial entry in the 'Amen' chorus. Tiredness, perhaps, after nearly two- and-a- half hours - but then they all rally for a rousing end and there is half a minute of thunderous applause afterward (Otherwise the audience, though a presence, is unobtrusive.)
The soloists are a mixed bunch, the women preferable to the men. Bass James Oldfleld is clean and decent and manages his generous helping of semiquavers reasonably, though you would not call him stylish, and for some reason in 'Why do the nations?' he sings that 'the rulers take counsels' together, a plural which I do not think I have heard before. The traditional cut in 'The trumpet shall sound' is, alas, observed. Tenor Mark Le Brocq sounds a little uneasy as he launches 'Comfort ye' but like his colleagues manages a little mild ornamentation occasionally, and he is moving at 'Thy rebuke hath broken his heart'. 'He was despised' can sometimes seem interminable if the mezzo is insensitive or self- indulgent: here Catherine Wyn-Rogers is just fine, though without quite tugging the heart-sttings. Pick of the bunch, though, is the soprano Elizabeth Watts, and not just in her solos; the duet at 'He shall feed his flock' is beautifully tender and reflective.
This does not, therefore, set out to be the ultimate Messiah recording, even if such a tiling were possible. The sound is perfectly acceptable, though the harpsichord is a bit quiet in the recits. There is an interesting booklet note by the organist Simon Lindley that focuses on the various editions of the work that have held sway over the years, from Prout to Watkins shaw to Clifford Bartlett et al. The text is in English only and helpfully prints the biblical source for each number in the piece. There is one other cut: recitative 34 'Unto which of tile angels' and chorus 35 'Let all the angels' are not given: a pity. Among the many candidates for a state- of-the-art version, probably tile top choice at present is John Butt's scintillating performance from 2006 re-creating the Dublin 1742 version of the oratorio. It's a far cry from Huddersfield. With luck and a following wind, some lucky reviewer may get to greet the Huddersfielders' 200th birthday, and probably their next Messiah recording. How different will that be? Not long to wait now!
MusicWeb International, July 2011
To those of a certain age the words “Messiah” and “Huddersfield Choral Society” used to go together as naturally as “Father” and “Christmas”. Their three recordings of the work under Sir Malcolm Sargent, the first in 1946, must have sold in great quantities and given great pleasure to millions. Since then however it is apparent that things have changed in Huddersfield and the old version by Ebenezer Prout that they once championed has now been abandoned. They have recorded it under Sir Charles Mackerras in Mozart’s version but the present version is even closer to that of the composer. Simon Lindley’s brief but interesting note refers to various modern editions including those by Watkins Shaw, John Tobin and Clifford Bartlett without saying which is actually used here. There are no surprises as to which versions of particular numbers are chosen, but two are omitted – “Unto which of the angels” and “Let all the angels”, as is the middle section of “The trumpet shall sound”. None of this is mentioned in the booklet, and no mention is made of the likelihood that most if not all was recorded at a live performance. The only applause is at the very end, and I can detect no sounds of the audience rising to their feet for “Hallelujah” and no applause at the end of it. A note in the booklet explains that it has been customary to sing “Christians, awake!” before performances of “Messiah” in Huddersfield since 1849. If this is a wholly live performance with no “patching” both performers and audience must be congratulated for the absence of noises such as coughing or movement, and the former for the virtual absence of any of those minor faults which can be irritating on repetition. On the other hand it could be that this is the reason for some general lack of excitement for much of the performance, especially in Part One. A feeling of playing safe, of concentrating more on getting detail exact than on the overall spirit of the music, is apparent for much of the time.
The Huddersfield Choral Society of today produces a very different sound to that of Sir Malcolm’s day. The booklet gives no indication of its size as recorded here, but it sounds relatively large compared to the professional choirs who are mainly found in recent recordings of the work. Its singing is nonetheless generally buoyant and lively in tone, and seemingly unworried by speeds that are for the most part much faster than those Sir Malcolm employed in their earlier versions. There is a special, albeit inauthentic, pleasure to be gained from hearing a large and expert chorus in this work, and it is good that a further chapter has been added to the Society’s recorded history of this work.
All four soloists are good, and Elizabeth Watts is much more than that. It is indeed her bright, lively and wholly committed contribution that is for me the chief attraction of the set. The orchestra play well enough, but for too much of the time with a lack of that Handelian energy and fervour which lifts performances of this mighty work out of the ordinary. It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is a solid and worthy recording rather than one which seriously competes with the best previous recordings of this often recorded work.