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'Messiah', along with Mendelssohn's 'Elijah', is to me the greatest oratorio ever written and one of the greats in the choral repertoire (Verdi and Mozart's Requiems are up there too). It's no wonder that it's Handel most performed and celebrated work.
This film version is interesting enough, and has enough to recommend, but of the DVD 'Messiahs' available it is my least favourite. Much prefer the Christopher Hogwood, Stephen Cleobury and Claus Guth-directed (staged like a filmed opera, and more humanised, and it worked) performances.
As aforementioned, there is a lot to like. It is superb musically. The orchestra achieve a perfect balance of authenticity, refinement energy, rousing power and pathos, with a beautifully produced sound. As well as being rousing in the "Hallelujah" chorus to nuanced in arias like "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth". The chorus have a lot to do, and it's not easy music, needing a lot of sound, a wide dynamic range and flexibility, which this chorus have. They are particularly good in "Hallelujah", "For Unto Us a Child is Born" and the "Amen" chorus.
Supporting them every step of the way is Marc Minkowski. Despite specialising more in French baroque music, Minkowski does a fine job here, conducting with finesse, elegance, energy and dramatic intensity. The soloists are uniformly excellent, Charlotte Hellekant is particularly remarkable while ethereal Lynne Dawson and intense but expressive John Mark Ainsley are not far behind. "He was Despised", "How Beautiful are the Feet" and "The Trumpets Shall Sound".
Less good is the direction and some of the images. This version of 'Messiah' does look striking and beautiful as well as rich in atmosphere, apart from some extreme close ups that cuts off parts of heads. There are some memorable images, especially the prison chorus and the man in the dessert, that were vivid and moving. "The Trumpets Shall Sound" was fun too.
At the same time, it's a bit fragmented and too many of the images hold little relevance to the meaning of the music, juxtapose too much with the words and have little point. "He Shall Feed His Flock" fares particularly badly here, but even worse is the heavy-handed and gratuitously gruesome visuals for "Why Do the Nations".
Overall, interesting and musically superb, but doesn't entirely work. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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