Messiah Sandrine Piau, Katherine Watson (soprano), Anthea Pichanick (contralto), Rupert Charlesworth (tenor), Andreas Wolf (bass-baritone); Le Concert Spirituel/hervé Niquet Alpha ALPHA 362 116:22 mins (2 discs) Of all the various authentic editions of Messiah, Hervé Niquet chooses, as did Christopher Hogwood in 1979, Handel’s 1754 version performed at the Foundling Hospital. That score uses five soloists, including a second soprano. The two top voices here – Sandrine Piau and Katherine Watson – are well matched, with Anthea Pichanick the even, steady contralto and Rupert Charlesworth the clean, fresh-toned tenor. Andreas Wolf ’s bass-baritone offers a lightvoiced approach, and can certainly find his way around the little notes.
Niquet’s Le Concert Spirituel forces are somewhat different in size to those Handel had to hand on this occasion. Handel’s orchestra was larger than Niquet’s total of 29 (15 violins to Niquet’s 10, for instance), but the 27 voices in the modern choir Handel apparently had only 19, including six trebles.
Niquet’s brisk approach can at times seem hasty: he justifies this in the Pastoral Symphony, saying that the piece represents the shepherds ‘who arrive and are dazzled by the sight of the angel … it makes quite an impact!’; whether it makes quite the impact one wants is another matter. The chorus ‘Surely He hath borne our griefs’ is also extremely fast, but ‘Hallelujah’ benefits from the conductor’s spritely reading.
While Niquet’s orchestra is rather rough textured, his choir is certainly lithe and athletic; but some of the text gets lost in the over-resonant church acoustic. George Hall
PERFORMANCE ★★★ RECORDING ★★★