HANDEL: Messiah (Highlights) (Murray Khouri/ Scholars Baroque Ensemble) (Naxos: 8.553258)
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George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
The Messiah (Highlights)
George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685. His elderly father,barber-surgeon to the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, entertained natural prejudicesagainst the choice of music as a profession for his young son, the second childof his second wife, and Handel enjoyed an education that led him, after hisfather's death, to a brief period of study at the University of Halle in 1702.
The following year he moved to Hamburg, joining the opera there, at first as astring-player, then as harpsichordist and composer. Success in Italian opera inHamburg coupled with the doubtful musical prospects the city offered, persuadedHandel to try his fortune in Italy, where he spent the years between 1706 and1710, confirming his generally Italianate style of composition in works for thetheatre, the church and private entertainment.
In 1710, rejecting an offer from the ruler of Innsbruck, Handel accepted theposition of Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, the future King George I ofEngland, and immediately took leave of absence for the staging of his operaRinaldo in London, where Italian opera was gradually gaining a place. Two yearslater he was back in London for good, concerned in particular with thecomposition, management and presentation of Italian opera. During the followingthirty years he wrote nearly forty Italian operas for the London stage, to whichhe devoted a considerable part of his working life.
Early oratorio may be seen as a by-product of opera as it developed at theturn of the sixteenth century in Italy. England was late in its grudgingacceptance of opera and had shown little interest in oratorio, as it haddeveloped in other countries during the seventeenth century. Handel had writtenItalian oratorio in Rome. His first attempt at the new form of English oratoriocarne in 1732 with his setting of an adaptation of Racine's biblical drama Esther,described by one hostile critic as a "Religious Farce", and certainlya very profitable one to its composer. English oratorio combined the musicaldelights of Italian opera, with a text in English and a religious subject thatmight appeal to the Protestant conscience. Since oratorio was not staged, therewas also a considerable saving in the cost of production.
Of all English oratorios Handel's Messiah has always been the mostoverwhelmingly popular. It is the least theatrical of all his oratorios and themost purely sacred in its choice of subject, the Messiah, a compendiousversion of the coming of Christ, His death and resurrection. The text, byCharles Jennens, drew extensively on the Authorized Version of the Bible, and anadditional attraction has always been the large number of choruses included, alarger number than in any other of Handel' s oratorios.
Messiah was written with Handel's usual speed in 1741 for performance inDublin, some of it rehearsed briefly by inadequate singers in Chester, as hemade his way to Holyhead to embark for the voyage. The first performance wasgiven at the New Music Hall in Fish-amble Street, Dublin, on 13th April, 1742,in aid of charity. The first London performance took place in Lent 1743 atCovent Garden, but the work failed to please, in part because of reservationsthat some held about the suitability of such a sacred subject for a theatre. Messiahonly achieved its lasting success after performances in 1750 in aid of theFoundling Hospital, established ten years earlier by Captain Thomas Coram. Athis death in 1759 Handel left a fair copy of the score and all parts to theHospital, an institution that continued to benefit from annual performances ofthe work.
The Scholars Baroque Ensemble
The scholars Baroque Ensemble was founded in 1987 by David van Asch with theidea of complementing the "a capella" work of the vocal ensemble THESCHOLARS. This group, consisting also of the soprano Kym Amps, counter tenorAngus Davidson and tenor Robin Doveton, has had worldwide success during thelast twenty years.
The members of THE SCHOLARS BAROQUE ENSEMBLE are all specialists in the fieldof Baroque music and play original instruments (or copies) using contemporarytechniques, singers and players work together without a director to producetheir own versions of great masterpieces such as the St. John Passion byBach, the 1610 Vespers by Monteverdi, Dido and Aeneas and TheFairy Queen by Purcell, the Messiah and Acis and Galatea byHandel, all of which are being released by Naxos. Concert performances by theensemble have been highly praised by critics and audiences alike.
The artistic aim of the ensemble goes far beyond that of so-called"authenticity"; more important is the clarity and vitality achieved bythe use of a minimum number of players and singers per part, normally only one(as in this recording), which was common practice in the seventeenth andeighteenth centuries.