Handel: Messiah (CD Review - Hifi Critic, 2009)

Another Christmas-related work (even if its fame spread from the Dublin premiere at Eastertide), this performance enjoys vitality and sensitivity in equal measure; indeed it is a finely-judged intimate yet outgoing account, tempos unerringly judged. Polyphony’s youthful voices are a joy throughout, and the soloists avoid heaviness of expression without undoing the significant sentiments expressed (Julia Doyle’s coloratura is impressive, and Iestyn Davies’s renown seems fully justified). The famous arias and choruses are not weighed-down with pre-conception, Stephen Layton saving the grandest utterance for ‘Worthy is the Lamb ... Amen’ as a truly fulfilling conclusion. The recording is naturally balanced and spacious, generally clear if slightly fuggy and thus faithful to St John’s, Smith Square in London, a venue the writer knows well, truthful enough to suggest that Polyphony might have sported a few more members and that the most ceremonial moments could have enjoyed a little more immediacy. Nevertheless, the venue is a fine home for this wonderful opus, and this is a version of Messiah that compels the listener for its two-and-a-quarter hours.

Colin Anderson 

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