CD cover - MessiahMessiah

23-Dec-2001

Conductor: John Pryce-Jones
Black Dyke Band and the Halifax Choral Society
Soloists: Maurice Murphy, trumpet. Mary Hegarty, Soprano. Carole Wilson, Mezzo. Aled Hall, Tenor. Gidon Saks, Bass.
Doyen Recordings: CD 110
Playing Time: 1hr 47.03

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This is a stunning achievement. Handel's masterpiece has received many outstanding performances since it was first heard in Dublin in 1742, and has in fact been performed memorably by Black Dyke and the Halifax Choral Society in 1951, but this recording deservedly stands comparison with any that have taken place.

This immense undertaking is directed with a superb understanding of the score and libretto by John Pryce Jones, a man not unfamiliar to the brass band world, as a result he combines the forces of Black Dyke and the equally impressive Halifax Choral Society to glorious effect.

The vocal soloists on display are top-drawer class all have performed at the very highest professional level, and it shows in their innate understanding of the nuances required to illuminate the picture Handel paints from the biblical texts. In addition we have the added pleasure of being able to listen to Maurice Murphy on scintillating form.

The rumour (which will no doubt become legend) is that Murphy arrived at the recording (it matters not why or how) minus trumpet, mouthpiece and music only to be provided with the accoutrements after a frantic search around Huddersfield. He then put a bit of valve oil in to lubricate the instrument and proceeded to perform in the manner to which only those touched by genius can do - faultless. The sheer purity and clarity of his tone sends shivers up your spine and you are left with a wry smile of pleasure wrapped across your face. His performance is worth the price of the CD alone.

The "Messiah" has provided the staple backbone for many top class amateur Choral Society's Christmas offerings for many years, but this is only the second time since 1951 that Black Dyke have teamed with the superb Halifax Choral Society to perform the arrangement by Dr Denis Wright. The initial performance was undertaken in Wales (where else?) in 1946 when the famous Parc and Dare Band and the Blaenycwm Choral Society played under the baton of the great man at the Libanus Chapel, Treherbert.

Since then the arrangement has been sadly neglected until today, when two of the oldest (and on this form, the best) amateur ensembles combined to give us this superb recording.

The double CD is as near a complete performance of the work as you are likely to get (there are a couple of items missing but this has been traditionally the case in any full scale performance) and the overall production has been superbly realised. Recorded over two days in November this year it benefits from the highest production values and a subtleness and lightness of touch from the producer Bob McDowall and engineer, Richard Scott. In addition there is a scholarly 16 page insert by Roy Newsome that adds greatly to the release.

Black Dyke provides understated yet detailed and precise accompaniment, which although lacking the colour and timbres of the orchestra, is still superbly balanced and restrained. They never overpower yet their contribution to the overall picture is substantial. It is a performance worthy of their status and one that bears equal comparison to any other orchestral ensemble. The Sinfonia to open the work is a minor gem of brilliance.

The four vocalists also exhibit clarity in their major roles and the bass voice of Gidon Saks has a rounded plumbyness that is a delight to hear. None have to stretch their voices to overcome the band and all have a range of vocal colour and texture that adds greatly to the enjoyment of the work.

The Halifax Choral is also superbly balanced and rounded in tone and provide a foundation to the work second to none whilst Pryce Jones gives a masterly display of choral direction that reveals wit and lightness to compliment the obvious pathos the work requires.

The "Messiah" is essentially a three-part work. The first refers to the Old Testament and the account of the birth of Christ, whilst the second tells of his suffering and death, as told by the prophets. The last tells the story of His second coming.

After the instrumental overture the work unfolds through recitatives and arias with a joyful chorus or two thrown in for good measure. The second part is more sombre but ends in the blaze of glory that is the "Hallelujah" chorus, whilst the third part is somewhat curtailed yet contains the most loved sections such as "I know that my Redeemer liveth" and "The trumpet shall sound" and the "Amen Chorus".

As we have said, this is a stunning achievement. All parties (including Doyen Recordings) must be congratulated for the achievement. A classic in the making.

What's on this CD?

CD1

 

51.33

1-19

Part I

 

CD2

 

55.29

1-16

Part II

 

17-21

Part III

 

Total playing time

1hr 47.02

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