Handel: Messiah (CD Review - Brisbane Courier, 2009)

When British conductor Stephen Layton directs Handel's Messiah he goes for a close-knit ensemble, neat, light, bright. No lumbering along with cumbersome forces. Vocal soloists fit into the texture of the balanced whole. This enduring oratorio has come in al lstyles and sizes since its premiere performance before an ecstatic Dublin audience in 1742.

Layton himself has conducted a variety of them, with choirs numbering from 18 to 2000 singers, and orchestras ranging from 16 to 50 players. He hand-picked soloists from a Queensland Symphony Orchestra and Brisbane Chorale performance he conducted in Brisbane last weekend (December 5), as he did for this new recording featuring the choir Polyphony he formed for a 1986 Cambridge performance, Britten Sinfonia and soloists Julia Doyle (soprano), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Allan Clayton (tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (bass). Working from his own edition of the piece, Layton gives the evergreen music an ethereal aura. It seems to take wing, Polyphony, in particular, sings with spectacular lightness, grace and agility. Voices skim through tricky passages, and spin celestial harmonies with unified vocal ease. The famed Hallelujah chorus is stirring enough, but the performance reaches new heights of power in the final chorus Worthy is the Lamb and its Amen, backde by empathetic playing from Britten Sinfonia.

It is artistry at its best, a truly compact ensemble where chorus, solo voices and instruments work well as one.

Patricia Kelly

See Recording Details