A London cabbie said to me the other day that the good thing about Christmas was that it broke up the winter. As a summer person, I hadn't thought of it like that but he is right, and come January you gradually start to see longer days (very slowly!) and therefore light at the end of the tunnel. Christmas seemed to have started early this year and whilst I am rather partial to a few twinkling lights, I like them at Christmas and not in September!
Whilst on the "C" subject one excitement this year is that there is a fabulous new recording of Handel's Messiah which is more usually performed in advent. Everybody should have a Handel's Messiah in their music library, it is the ultimate in feel good factor music. Great to have on in the background and even better to have a good sing-a-long to. Furthermore if you ever get the opportunity to sing it in either a choral society or do a scratch Messiah, then grab the chance because afterwards you will be on such a high you won't sleep for a week.
The Passion of Jesus Christ has drawn many great composers to write music for it. If sheer number of performances is anything to go by then Handel's oratorio the Messiah must be the greatest Passion setting of all time.
Handel came over to England with George of Hanover who became George I of England. His music was very popular and in particular his operas (he wrote 39). However fashions change and facing financial ruin he had one more ace up his sleeve - the oratorio (setting of religious story or text to music for soloists, choir and orchestra for the concert hall). He wrote his first oratorio Esther in 1732 which was a huge success and within 12 months had written two more. Following an invitation to Dublin by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to perform his music, Handel wrote and performed the Messiah. It became an overnight sensation and at its English Premiere hundreds of eager listeners had to be turned away.
The recording I recommend is the first new recording of the Messiah this century, it is fabulous and has had great reviews. Some recordings can be heavy with too bigger chorus thereby losing the required lightness. Others can go the other way and sound too thin on the ground. Although recorded with a small group it shows that size isn't everything and it still sounds meaty. Emmanuelle Haim has given it a sensitive interpretation with constant change in colour and mood which reflect the ups and downs of life.
Emmanelle Haim is a french harpsichordist, conductor and Handel specialist who is with her own ensemble Le Concert d'Astree along with four of the UK's finest Handelian singers. I love Lucy Crowe's voice, so light but with great depth making you want to listen to her over and over again. Christopher Purves had an unconventional start to his career in Harvey and the Wallbangers, and is a big favourite of mine, a bass-baritone he can sing a very wide range and can go staggeringly deep, he sounds convincingly furious in "Why do the nations rage?" Haim does use a counter tenor Tim Mean instead of a female alto, which for some might take a bit of getting used to.
This is an absolute MUST have recording.