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This landmark recording of Messiah dates from 1961, and was Boult’s second for Decca – the first made in 1954. Both versions use Julian Herbage’s revised edition which erased many of the 19th-century accretions and bad habits that had clung to this famous score like barnacles to a ship’s hull.
Today, ‘period practice’ – the pioneering work of musicologists trying to strip away centuries of ‘improvement’ to get at the composer’s original ideas and intention – is the norm for such music. When first released, the recording claimed to use ‘authentic orchestration’. Although modern instruments were used, the number of players involved would approximate to the number used by Handel – although the string section is rather big!
It is worth remembering that Handel, ever the showman, would use vast forces if at all possible. Julian Herbage made his edition in 1935, and feared it had been destroyed during the Blitz in 1942. Happily it survived, and he refined and merged his earlier edition with a later version used here.
Recording made in 1961
Full sung text and essay
“David Ward is first-rate in his sensible and sensitive interpretation of ‘The people that walked in darkness’, sung with great restraint and beauty of tone. The tortuous vocal line is a severe test of any bass singer, but Ward’s intonation is never at fault. Sir Adrian Boult arouses his assembled forces to great brilliance in ‘For unto us’, and just as skilfully he gives a hushed and moving performance of the Pastoral Symphony.”
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