HANDEL’S Messiah (not The Messiah please note) is a problem piece. When Handel premiered it in 1742, he conducted it himself, and so the music score is sparse in performance instructions. This has caused conductors ever since to interpret it in their own ways. 25 years after the composer’s death, Handel’s friends, who called him “noisy Handel”, decided that if more singers and musicians had been available he would have used more, so they slowly began to inflate the piece, until in the mid-19th century thousands of voices and hundreds of musicians took part in the Crystal Palace spectaculars.
Eventually common sense prevailed, and by 1946 and 1959 when the RLPO and Malcolm Sargent recorded it with the Huddersfield Choral Society, things had scaled down to a chorus of something over 100 and a sizeable orchestra, including brass and clarinets, inserted by the conductor. It will be interesting to see how many appear on the recording planned for this summer by the Huddersfield and RLPO.
Nowadays the period style has taken over and on Saturday conductor Laurence Cummings will have a small chamber orchestra, scaling down the sound of the mighty Phil Chorus to match.
Messiah used to receive three performances in Liverpool not so long ago, with audiences attending as a religious experience, but as the country has become more secular, it now makes one appearance. And it is right that it should appear every year, because it is one of the great masterpieces, full of good tunes, and with a fine dramatic swing. Note the 7.00pm start.
John McCabe Choral Music (Naxos)
HUYTON-BORN composer John McCabe is now well represented on CD, but a disc of his choral music is a new addition. The BBC singers, under David Hill, have recorded this for the budget Naxos label, and the 14 items include the substantial Mangan Triptych of 1983 and the three Marian Carols. The Triptych sets words by the 19th century Irish poet James Clarence Mangan, while the Marian Carols have texts by Coleridge, Norman Nicholson and 3 anonymous English and Flemish poems, I Sing of a Maiden being the best known.
There are also settings of Thomas Hardy, Henry Vaughan and John Donne, and this BBC recording is well presented with complete texts.
My Song is Love Unknown: Church Music by John Ireland (Naxos)
WHILE John McCabe has retained strong links with Merseyside and Manchester, Bowden-born John Ireland made his career in the south of England. Lincoln Cathedral Choir, under Arie Prentice, gives a fine collection of his church music, including the Communion Service in C and four carols, one of which is famous The Holy Boy. There are organ solos by Charles Harrison all in glorious cathedral sound.