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Handel: Messiah / Layton, Polyphony

Album Summary

>Handel, George Frideric : Messiah, HWV 56, Oratorio
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"Polyphony and its director Stephen Layton are bona fide, well-seasoned Messiah experts, whose more than 10 years of annual London Messiah concerts have conferred a special understanding of and relationship with this at once varied and variable masterpiece... The context for this performance was the Christmas 2008 production from Polyphony's usual Messiah venue, St. John's Smith Square in London; the performing edition is based on Handel's version from 1750 (Messiah as most listeners know it); performing forces are moderately sized (chorus of 31, orchestra of 24)--and I must say ideally so for this interpretation and venue; and happily, as you listen the issue of period vs. modern performance style doesn't come up--the playing by the Britten Sinfonia is simply crisp and taut and articulate, with a keen rhythmic sense and overall vibrant timbre... it will instead encourage repeated listening by virtue of its trueness to Handel's music and its uncompromisingly fine performances. By definition, if you love Messiah, one recording (or performance) is never enough--and this version will be a welcome addition--or first acquisition--for any collection." -Classics Today

Annual live performances of Handel's Messiah at St John's Smith Square with Polyphony and Stephen Layton have become one of the highlights of the musical season. The joyful sincerity and brilliance of the performers has brought this familiar story to vivid life again and again. Now this wonderful experience is available on disc, recorded in 2008 for a new release that will surely prove a strong competitor even in a crowded market. Polyphony is joined by the Britten Sinfonia and a quartet of magnificent young soloists - all variously acclaimed as the premier Handel singers of the new generation.

Annual live performances of Handel's Messiah at London's St. John's Smith Square with Polyphony and Stephen Layton have become one of the highlights of the musical season. "No one, but no performs Messiah better every year than the choir Polyphony under the conductor Stephen Layton"- The Evening Standard. Note: 2 discs for the price of one.

'If you only listen to one Messiah this Christmas, Stephen Layton and Polyphony's live recording should be it ... Layton's interpretation has matured into something of infinite variety, clear insight and spiritual substance' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The music-making here has ... the lightness, texutures and vocabulary of period style, but there is also the spritual grandeur ... of the great Northern choral society tradition ... The soloists are ideal. Julia Doyle is a charismatic Angel/narrator in the pastoral scene, and her embellished recapitulation of 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' is spine-tingling. Andrew Foster-Williams' singing is marvellous ... The well-rounded tone and technical precision of Iestyn Davies's singing is easy to enjoy, but it is equally significant that his ornamentation in 'But who may abide' is masterful for its stylish vocabulary and expressive wisdom' (Gramophone)

'The new release has both a fine sense of style and is full of refreshing insights ... The choir ... sings with an effortless control and well-modulated fluency that takes wing ... The acapella introduction of the final Amen is a masterstroke ... Polyphony's new Messiah gives the daughters of Zion cause to 'Rejoice Greatly'' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Choral lightness and Layton's airy tempos convey the general feeling of good news ... The quality of Julia Doyle's voice, shining, is fine, and 'Rejoice Greatly' finds her full of exultant expectancy at the thought of the Saviour's coming. The orchestra accompanies her with a springing step ... A worthy addition to the discography' (International Record Review)

'Stephen Layton and his choir Polyphony are formidable performers' (Mail on Sunday)

'Polyphony's cultured, humane performances of Handel's masterpiece have long been a pre-Christmas fixture at St John's Smith Square and this set, recorded ther in December last year, testifies to the blend of brilliance and warmth that the choir and the versatile Britten Sinfonia bring to the music. Four excellent soloists enhance the stirring, poignant impact' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Layton understands the dramatic character of Handel's realization of the Christian story, but it's really the musical realizations here that are so compelling--and refreshingly unidiosyncratic--that you easily can hold this Messiah as your standard reference... This is the most satisfying quartet of Messiah soloists to appear in a very long time... it will instead encourage repeated listening by virtue of its trueness to Handel's music and its uncompromisingly fine performances' (ClassicsToday.com, USA)

'Polyphony are excellent ... and Layton's direction is vivid and masterly' (The Sunday Times)

'Layton's direction of the oratorio is wholly convincing ... He often sets brisk tempi but the speeds always make sense and his performers are able to cope well and to articulate the music with pleasing clarity. However, this is not a hasty or brusque Messiah. The reflective numbers are as well done as are the joyful or the dramatic ones. Layton clearly loves the work and that shows through in his direction of it. It almost goes without saying that Hyperion's production values are excellent. The sound is clear and pleasing. The booklet notes are good and the full libretto is provided, albeit in quite small type. This is a fine Messiah, which I have enjoyed greatly and to which I know I'll return often in the future. It's a significant contribution to the Handel anniversary celebrations' (MusicWeb.com)

'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' (Hi-Fi Critic)


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Works Details

>Handel, George Frideric : Messiah, HWV 56, Oratorio
  • Performers: Julia Doyle (Soprano); Iestyn Davies (Countertenor); Allan Clayton (Tenor); Andrew Foster-Wililams
  • Conductor: Stephen Layton
  • Ensemble: Britten Sinfonia
  • Notes: St John's Church, Smith Square, London (12/22/2008-12/23/2008)
  • Running Time: 124 min. 9 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1741