Monday, December 12, 2011

Messiah from Boston

A very fine Messiah, from Boston, featuring the Handel and Society conducted by Thomas Dunn. From 1977, this record was one of a handful of excellent "local" issues recorded and released by the now defunct Sine Qua Non label.

Messiah is magnificent work, in my opinion, the greatest work in its genre. No other oratorio so captures the meaning of the text in its music as this one does. If Handel had written nothing else, Messiah would have marked him as a genius of music and words. For me, Messiah is a desert isle work; I could not live without it since it is a constant rediscovery for me everytime I listen to it.

This performance is a marvelous document of the high choral and orchestral standards that conductor/musicologist Thomas Dunn set while he directed Boston's Handel and Haydn Society, the oldest organization of its kind in America. When Dunn took over the directorship of H & H, the performing organization was a quasi professional ensemble whose programs were often inconsistent, both musically and technically, from year to year and concert to concert. During his tenure, Dunn fully "professionalized" the organization, envisioning it as a resource that could, as its core, set performance practice standards for the great choral literature. In addition, Dunn expanded the concert series to include strictly orchestral programs and settings for smaller choral pieces, usually presented in churches or smaller halls rather than the imposing Symphony Hall. Dunn's reputation and work was such that upon his retirement, the H & H hired the highest profile artistic director it ever had, to that point, in one Christopher Hogwood.

This particular Messiah incorporates period practice with the benefit of modern orchestra and mid size chorus. In short, Dunn's Messiah is sensible and moderate and listeners should find the experience to be thoroughly enjoyable. The soloists are all quite competent and well prepared but they are not an "all star" cast. I am delighted that one of my heroes, Armando Ghitalla, is the featured trumpet soloist alongside the  bass David Evitts. The word and message is the real star in this glorious work and I suppose Maestro Dunn has chosen wisely in his staffing for this record. A real pleasure.

One note: The entire contents excepting "Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive" have been transferred. Unfortunately Behold was at the begining of side 2 and was marred by a deep scratch. I could not repair the track in a way that would do justice to the text.