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Image Entertainment presents
Handel's The Messiah (1993)

"The trumpet shall sound, and the dead raised incorruptible."
- I Corinthians, 15:52

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 02, 2000

Stars: Lynne Dawson, Hillary Summers, John Mark Ainsley, Alastair Miles
Other Stars: The Brandenburg Consort and the Choir of King's College Cambridge, conducted byStephen Cleobury
Director: Dirk van Bijker

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:20,:09s
Release Date: October 31, 2000
UPC: 014381581522
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A+B+B D-

DVD Review

Handel's Messiah is without a doubt the best-known and best-loved oratorio in the English language. It very likely holds that distinction regardless of language. In a fit of mania, George Frederic Handel wrote the whole of this massive work in the space of a few weeks. The result is regularly performed throughout the world, especially during the Christmas season, although it really is more appropriate for Easter.

This disc gives us a live performance of the oratorio complete, without the cuts which so often plague the third part. Recorded in the Pieterskirk in Leiden, Netherlands, this performance on period instruments has an admirable clarity and precision throughout most of its duration. There are occasional intonation problems in the strings which somewhat disturb the mood, and the trumpet completely muffs a critical solo in the beloved Hallelujah Chorus, but such is the price of the spontaneity of a live performance. The result on disc would have been better had two performances been taped and the best of each combined. Stephen Cleobury administers a rather brisk tempo which I found pleasing after hearing many, many Messiahs that are draggy and boring. Even his Larghetti are quite quick, but there is no sensation of rushing or being overhasty. This interpretation is quite pleasing.

The four soloists are not particularly memorable. The soprano, Lynne Dawson and alto Hillary Summers, come off best. Summers delivers her numbers, such as the powerful and moving "But who may abide," with sensitivity, but otherwise the quartet is rather emotionless. Tenor John Mark Ainsley is handicapped by an unfortunate mixing decision on the 5.1 track. Alastair Miles, singing bass, is good and forceful, but below about a C his voice becomes completely lost. I don't know if this is a limitation of his voice or an acoustic feature of this performance venue, but it's quite an unhappy result. Miles is also a little overmatched by the insanely long phrases Handel demands of his bass; a number of times I felt him struggling to reach the final note.

The high point of the disc is the choir. Somehow, notwithstanding all the times I've heard this piece, this is the first time that I've ever heard it with an all-male choir and the results are edifying. The use of boys to sing the alto and soprano parts gives a much more seamless feeling as motifs travel from voice to voice, which isn't present when women sing these parts. The same timbre amongst the voices makes the choir a unified whole; this is vital in the fugal parts of the work such as "And with his stripes." The result is an excellent rendering of the choruses in particular. The young boys deliver a very competent performance. I wish the quartet were as involved as the choir.

Overall, this is an acceptable rendering of the oratorio. It's not an essential performance, and the random noises are highly distracting, but there are enough positive and interesting points to make it worthwhile for the classical fan to check out. The casual listener will probably be satisfied.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is satisfactory given the venue, a large church which is lit primarily with masses of candles. The picture is predictably hazy and slightly soft, without rich blacks. The bright reds of the dresses of the female orchestra members come through nicely, without being oversaturated. The diffused light of the background is surprisingly not subject to much artifacting. Bit rates are decently high, hovering at about 6 Mbps but occasionally going up to 9. A more pleasing result would have been obtained if the picture were anamorphic, but this will certainly do.

A wide variety of camera angles are used, although we seldom get closeups of the participants other than soloists. Occasionally, the picture cuts away to various pieces of art depicting scenes from the birth and passion of Jesus (including several by Rembrandt), but these happen so infrequently that they seem a little jarring.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both the DD 2.0 and 5.1 tracks provide excellent reproduction of the sound. The directionality of the chorus in the 5.1 track is quite nice, being spread across the front soundstage and precisely located. Through an unfortunate decision, the tenor's mike is oddly assigned primarily to the surrounds rather than the front, which takes a bit of getting used to. The sensation on the 5.1 track is of being about six feet in front of the conductor's position, with orchestra coming from the mains and surrounds and the chorus from the front. If you find this too distracting, the voices meld nicely with the orchestra on the 2.0 track. The tradeoff is a slight reduction in fullness and richness on the 2.0 audio.

Hiss is minimal on both audio tracks. Being a live recording, there are a great many unpleasant bangs thumps and other nondescript noises which are quite irritating. Oddly enough, during the lengthy pauses in between the three parts of the oratorio, we are given the sound of the choir either leaving or returning to their risers. This is a bit of nasty racket that I really didn't need on the disc.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 51 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 50 cues and remote access
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Other than very good chaptering (roughly one stop per musical number, although sometimes several recitatives are combined into a single chapter), there's nothing here at all.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

An excellent performance by the choir is handicapped slightly by an uninvolved quartet. This disc is definitely worth a listen, if only for the choruses. The use of period instruments (particularly the trumpet) is a plus.


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