Handel: Messiah (CD Review - Classic FM Magazine, 2009)

Christmas wouldn't be Chrismtas without a Messiah release, and there are few finer exponents of this great oratorio than Polyphony and Stephen Layton whose annual St John's Smith Square performances are a highlight of the season. The Britten Sinfonia and star soloists guarantee satisfaction.

I first heard conductor Stephen Layton's youthful thoughts on Handel's Messiah 20 years ago. His interpretation has matured since into something of infinitie variety, clear insight, and spiritual substance. In a note to this recording, caught live in concert at St John's, Smith Square, last Christmas, the conductor outlines his 'ongoing quest to get loser to the [work's] narrative journey, to the way in which the frama of the music serves the story Handel wanted to tell'. The deal here concerns musical and tectual revelation, with singers and orchestra inviting the familiar to be heard with fresh ears and engaging anew with the oratorio's book of words.

Layton's Messiah edition, rich in details of dynamics, articulation and phrasing, sagely manages the work's balance of dramatic action and contemplative reflection.

Listen to the compelling sequence beginning with 'All they that see Him' and 'He trusted in God'. The latter, a fugal chorus routinely delivered as an exercise in dry academic counterpoint, comes to dread life in Polyphony's expression of its malevolent tone.

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