In the interests of full disclosure I should reveal that your reviewer is a very elderly Messiah junkie who heard his first performance at a time when the earliest stirrings of the period performance movement were perceptible only to those with unusually sensitive ears and the world was still trying to wrench its collective consciousness away from six years of cataclysmic warfare. The event in question took place in December 1945 at the Pavilion, Bournemouth, on the south coast of England, only a few miles from the devastated port of Southampton, and was given by the Bournemouth Municipal Chorus and Orchestra. The orchestra, which has since achieved great distinction as the Bournemouth Symphony, had been reduced to twenty-four players during the war and while that number might now be considered appropriate for a Messiah performance, in 1945 it must have been quite a task to produce an orchestra deemed fit for Handel’s masterpiece.
Two of the best recordings of Messiah are among the most recent. They could not be more different; one is a performance of the Dublin version of 1742 by a small consort using historical performance practices and the other is an eclectic text performed by larger forces using modern instruments, Sir Colin Davis' most recent version, a live performance recorded at the Barbican in December 2006; but they are unquestionably among the finest performances of Handel’s masterpiece ever, and only a listener who has a seated prejudice against one mode of performance or the other could have any reason to choose between them. One must have both. And don’t forget Malcolm Sargent’s classic 1946 performance with the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Huddersfield Choral Society, available in a superb transfer on Dutton Records, for something completely different!