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The Last Judgement. The Louvre.

The Last Judgement. The Louvre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A great recording of the Christmas portion of Händel’s “Messiah” stopped me in my tracks today. 

I was compelled to sit motionless on the couch and close my eyes.  Nothing else would do.

Confirmation of my impression appears on Tafelmusik’s web site:

“I cannot remember a Messiah presentation as uniformly ‘spot-on’ as this year’s by Ivars Taurins’ Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra.”

-The Globe and Mail 

Recording details:

Name: Karina Gauvin, soprano • Robin Blaze, countertenor • Rufus Muller, tenor • Brett Polegato, baritone • Tafelmusik Chamber Choir
Name of CD: Handel: Messiah
Composer: George Frideric Handel
Conductor: Ivars Taurins
Orchestra/Ensemble: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Track Label: Tafelmusik

A description of “The people that walked in darkness,” a baritone aria, will give you an idea of what I heard.

The soloist and the orchestra used the same phrasing.

That matters!  “Messiah” has been around for a long time.  Do people truly listen to it any more?  Most of us can sing practically the entire oratorio without the score.  The words are so familiar, they just go by.  Are we paying attention?

In this aria, the phrasing was halting, with breaks after every group of 2 or 3 notes.   Da a a    a a   a a    a ark ness.  Not small breaks, but full 8th-note rests.

I know many people who would say this is too much, overly detailed, precious.  They would never go there.

The question is, though, how does one walk when there is no light?  Striding to one’s destination?  I don’t think so.  There is most likely quite a bit of uncertainty, causing hesitation in one’s step.

Although I have never heard this aria phrased in this way, I found it stunning.  No yelling.  Intelligent dynamics.  Wonderful ornamentation from soloists, chorus, and orchestra.  The soloist was not separate from the orchestra, which is the situation far too often.  (Orchestra has baroque phrasing, soloist sings like the orchestra has nothing to do with him/her, words just aren’t that important, if they are assimilated at all.)

Bravi to the conductor, soloists, chorus and orchestra!  And thanks to NEPR for airing this recording today.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

The Black Messiah

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