This Easter I listen to George Frideric Haendel’s “Messiah” which was written as an offering for Easter, though people typically listen to it at the Christmas season. I have the William Christie version on CD which was recorded in 1993 with the Les Arts Florissants choir. The sopranos are Barbara Schlick and Sandrine Piau. The contralto is Andreas Scholl. The tenor is Mark Padmore. And the bass is Nathan Berg. This is a recording of the “Dublin 1742” version of Messiah on period instruments. Les Arts Florissants is a premiere baroque orchestra, and plays with great style and verve. The choir is small, well delineated, and beautifully unified and precise. Of the soloists, Barbara Schlick and Sandrine Piau are both lovely – light and controlled and tenor Mark Padmore has a lovely tessitura. Tessitura is the prevailing range of a vocal within which most of the tones lie. Christie also makes the happy choice of choosing a treble, Tommy Williams, in the role of the annunciation angel, and his presence creates an unusual quality that I enjoy. His choruses have a power and effectiveness that have never been surpassed, and his writing for them is remarkable for the manner in which he interweaves massive but simple harmonic passages with contrapuntal sections of great ingenuity, the whole most effectively illustrating the text. His writing for the solo voice is outstanding in its suitability for the medium and its unerring melodic line. Handel has a striking ability to depict human character musically in a single scene, a gift used with great dramatic power in the Messiah.
George Frideric Haendel was born in Halle, Germany, into a religious, affluent household. The son of a barber-surgeon, Handel showed a marked gift for music and became a pupil in Halle of the composer Friedrich W. Zachow, learning the principles of keyboard performance and composition from him. His father died when Handel was 11, but his education had been provided for, and in 1702 he enrolled as a law student at the University of Halle. He also became organist of the Reformed (Calvinist) Cathedral in Halle, but he served for only one year before going north to Hamburg, where greater opportunities awaited him. In Hamburg, Handel joined the violin section of the opera orchestra. He also took over some of the duties of harpsichordist, and early in 1705 he presided over the premiere in Hamburg of his first opera, Almira.