Choral Society of the Hamptons, Rada Hastings, Suzanne Schwing, Nils Neubert & Mischa Bouvier | Handel: Messiah - Highlights

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Handel: Messiah - Highlights

by Choral Society of the Hamptons, Rada Hastings, Suzanne Schwing, Nils Neubert & Mischa Bouvier

A new and professionally-mastered recording of Handel’s beloved Messiah by the Choral Society of the Hamptons. “A fresh and exciting performance of a masterpiece.” -- Daniel Koontz, The East Hampton Star
Genre: Classical: Choral Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
clip
1. Messiah, HWV 56, Sinfonia, Part I: (Orchestra)
3:20 album only
clip
2. Messiah, HWV 56, Comfort Ye My People (Tenor)
2:52 album only
clip
3. Messiah, HWV 56, Ev'ry Valley Shall Be Exalted (Tenor)
3:36 album only
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4. Messiah, HWV 56, and the Glory of the Lord (Chorus)
3:16 album only
clip
5. Messiah, HWV 56, Thus Saith the Lord of Hosts (Bass)
1:28 album only
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6. Messiah, HWV 56, but Who May Abide the Day of His Coming (Alto)
4:50 album only
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7. Messiah, HWV 56, and He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi (Chorus)
2:57 album only
clip
8. Messiah, HWV 56, Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive (Alto)
0:25 album only
clip
9. Messiah, HWV 56, O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion (Alto and Chorus)
5:38 album only
clip
10. Messiah, HWV 56, for Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth (Bass)
1:59 album only
clip
11. Messiah, HWV 56, for Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth (Bass)
3:45 album only
clip
12. Messiah, HWV 56, for Unto Us a Child Is Born (Chorus)
4:31 album only
clip
13. Messiah, HWV 56, Pifa, Pastoral Symphony (Orchestra)
2:44 album only
clip
14. Messiah, HWV 56, There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Fields (Soprano)
0:36 album only
clip
15. Messiah, HWV 56, and Lo, the Angel of the Lord (Soprano)
0:36 album only
clip
16. Messiah, HWV 56, and the Angel Said Unto Them (Soprano)
0:21 album only
clip
17. Messiah, HWV 56, and Suddenly There Was With the Angel (Soprano)
2:11 album only
clip
18. Messiah, HWV 56, Glory to God in the Highest (Chorus)
4:58 album only
clip
19. Messiah, HWV 56, Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion (Soprano)
3:20 album only
clip
20. Messiah, HWV 56, Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates (Chorus)
0:31 album only
clip
21. Messiah, HWV 56, Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened (Soprano)
5:07 album only
clip
22. Messiah, HWV 56, He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd (Alto and Soprano)
2:32 album only
clip
23. Messiah, HWV 56, His Yoke Is Easy (Chorus)
4:10 album only
clip
24. Messiah, HWV 56, Part II: Hallelujah, Blessing and Honor, Amen (Chorus)
6:55 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Because of the extraordinary popularity of Messiah and its intimate association with the season of Christmas in the English-speaking world, George Frideric Handel is known to most modern audiences as a composer of oratorios. In his own lifetime, however, Handel's fame rested on a long and successful career as a composer and producer of operas. The German-born Handel had learned his craft in his twenties while living in Italy, and he emerged there as a precocious talent. What he absorbed from Florentine, Venetian, and Neapolitan opera became a permanent part of his musical style. It was not until years later, when political and economic circumstances in l8th-century London caused his opera productions to fail, that Handel focused his energies on what for him was a new genre – the English oratorio.

Handel's oratorios brought an enthusiastic response from the British public, who knew the Old Testament stories on which they were based, and enjoyed hearing English on the stage instead of Italian. As a result, Handel attracted a larger, more diversified audience for his oratorios than he had for his operas, which appealed primarily to the aristocracy. Furthermore, oratorios, unlike operas, required no expensive sets, stage machinery or costumes, and thus were more economical to produce.

Messiah is Handel's sixth English oratorio, composed in 1741. It is ironic that Handel wrote what became his most enduring masterpiece in the very year he stopped composing operas for good. Messiah was first performed in Dublin in 1742. Unlike Handel's other oratorios, Messiah is meditative rather than dramatic. It lacks plot action and specific characters, and is Handel's only English oratorio to draw its text from the New Testament as well as the Old. The libretto, prepared by Charles Jennens, successfully compiles disparate Biblical passages into a unified meditation on Christian redemption that suggests indirectly the coming, incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. (The work is divided into three parts, of which only the first, in fact, deals directly with the story of Christmas.) Jennens deserves more credit than he generally receives for inspiring Handel to create Messiah.

It has been suggested that Jennens and Handel were inspired in this oratorio to treat the subject of Christ and Christianity, instead of an Old Testament theme, by the circumstances of its first performance as a fundraising event for several Irish charities – for "the relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the Support of Mercer's Hospital in Stephen Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn's Quay." Messiah was so successful in this venture that in later years it became associated, in ever-larger productions, with public events to raise money for Dublin's Foundling Hospital. London audiences did not hear Messiah until 1743, and it was initially inserted without fanfare among other pieces in subscription concerts of Handel's music. In fact, Handel avoided using or publicizing the title "Messiah: A Sacred Oratorio" until 1749, out of fear that that the conservative London public would react badly to the presentation of New Testament scripture in concert hall performances by musicians usually associated with the theatre. Soon enough, though, it caught on, and became a cherished English musical treasure.

The recitatives and arias in Messiah differ very little from those found in Handel's Italian operas. They display his skill in distilling from a text the most important emotion and making it immediately accessible to the listener through music. This is the mark of a great theatrical composer. But the true innovation in Handel's oratorios can he heard in his use of the chorus. Years earlier, Handel had suddenly found himself in a position of influence with British royalty when his German patron and master, the Elector of Hanover, was proclaimed King George I of England. Subsequently, Handel (who became a naturalized British subject) was called upon to write music for grand ceremonial occasions, including royal funerals and coronations. In doing so, he assimilated and improved upon the grand tradition of the English church anthem. Later on, he called upon his skill as a choral composer when he started to write oratorios, the stories of which required a predominance of group expression over the kind of individual expression characterized by the operatic aria for solo voice. In the case of Messiah, a contemplative oratorio about redemption, the most dramatic moments are given to the chorus. In fact, the role of the chorus in Messiah is so extraordinary that the historian Paul Henry Lang was moved to make the following statement: "And when the Hallelujah chorus is thundered, its wondrous strains exuding power and pomp, the audience gets to its feet to greet a mighty ruler in whose presence we do not kneel but stand at attention."

Legend has made much of Handel's frenzied state of mind during the three weeks he spent composing Messiah, when he supposedly claimed that he saw God face to face. Without diminishing Handel's artistic achievement or questioning his religious faith, it is important to consider the evidence that shows Handel as a master craftsman, rationally in control of his technique and fully aware of the effect it would have: three of the choruses in the Christmas portion of Messiah that we are presenting today (numbers 7, 12, and 21) are actually rewordings of several secular vocal duets for female voices by Handel about romantic love, originally sung in Italian. Some listeners are disappointed to learn that the melodies in the most famous of these movements, "For unto us a child is born," were not inspired by those words, but were in fact originally fitted to different ones. But when considered alongside the hundreds of thousands of listeners who have been moved by this most infectious example of joy expressed in music, how can one complain about Handel's methods? He knew what he was doing.

Of the many marvelous moments in Messiah, one of the most striking is the small "scene" in which the nativity is announced to the shepherds. It comes magically out of the peasant pastoral music of section number 13, the instrumental Pifa (the title suggests music played traditionally at Christmas by the Italian "pifferare" or pipers) when the soprano recitative tells of the angel coming to the shepherds, and introduces the chorus and the first appearance of the trumpets in the score. The chorus starts out ethereally without basses, and then moves through polyphony and antiphony before culminating in full declamation. The effect is overwhelming. To prolong the rejoicing, we include in this performance the chorus "Lift up your heads," which is while it is from Part Two of the oratorio, both its words and key fit well in the Christmas portion of the oratorio. Similarly, the greatest of all Messiah choruses, "Hallelujah," actually comes from Part Two, where it celebrates not Christ's birth but the omnipotence of the Lord – but when has Messiah ever been performed, even at Christmas time, without “Hallelujah”? And, to conclude this performance we have borrowed from Part Three the work’s finale, “Blessing, and honor, glory, and power be unto him” which ends with a glorious Amen chorus.

Since the l9th century, Messiah has been the central work of the amateur choral repertory. When we experience its message and power as part of our Christmas season, we understand why it has attained a universal popularity that remains unchallenged to this day.

- Mark Mangini

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