Handel: Messiah - Lautten Compagney

Handel: Messiah - Lautten Compagney

DHM  88697164142, BVCD-37406 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Handel: Messiah

Sharon Rostorf-Zamir (soprano)
Maria Riccarda Wesseling (alto)
Kobie van Rensburg (tenor)
Raimund Nolte (bass)
Dresdner Kammerchor
Lautten Compagney
Wolfgang Katschner (conductor)

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Reviews (1)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - January 20, 2013

Do we need another Messiah?

There never seem to be enough and …. none of them seem to be able to carry off a ‘shared by all’ first prize. On SACD there are now no less than 9 versions available, with three from the Harmonia Mundi stables. Like this one from the German wing and, yes, sung in German!

Since there is no review, and since it is not bad at all, and since I own it, and since two out of two recommend it, I thought that people might perhaps be interested to know a bit more about this two disc set. This said, it is not my intention to discuss it in detail. There are better qualified experts (at least as many as there are Britons in the UK). Besides, I wonder how many Anglo-Saxons would be interested in this set in the first place. I will limit myself, therefore, to some remarks for the rest of us.

First of all: This is not a recently concocted German translation of the original. It’s more than two centuries old and Johann Gottfried von Herder (25 August 1744 – 18 December 1803) is the one who did it. And it is not just a translation, like Klopstock had done before him; von Herder follows the English text as closely as possible, resulting in, to say the least, unconventional German, conveying the idiom and following as much as possible the rhythm of the music, ‘as if it had been composed that way’. Certainly not an easy thing to do and, had I not known the original, than I find this performance totally convincing.

Another interesting aspect concerns the orchestra. The Lautten Compagney (The Lute Company), founded in 1984 by its present Chef, Wolfgang Katschner, together with his duo lute partner, Hans-Werner Apel, plays in variable chamber combinations up to a twenty plus baroque opera orchestra. I had not heard of them before (baroque opera is not my specialty) but I was immediately struck by the freshness and outstanding quality of their playing.

Next come the soloists. With the exception of Kobie van Rensburg (who also sings in René Jacobs widely welcomed version of the Messiah), the other names are perhaps and at first sight, not quite the one’s one usually associates with the Messiah. But Google tells me that they have all earned their credits in the field of several of Handel’s operas and oratorio. Anyhow, whatever their respective résumé’s suggest, in the final analysis one’s own ears are the best judge. I was not disappointed!

Handel requires highly skilled singers. In this respect, Kobie ven Rensburg is technically better equipped to sing for instance ‘Alle Tale werden erhaben’ (‘Ev’ry valley shall be exalted’) than Nicholas Mulroy in John Butt’s rendition. (I shall not dwell on a comparison with the 1742 ‘original version’ performance of The Dunedin Consort, as it is special and as it is largely ‘incomparable’ in its own ‘lean’ approach).

As for the other voices, I should mention Sharon Rosdorf-Zamir’s open and delightful soprano and Raimund Nolte’s solid bass. Whereas Maria Riccarda Wesseling has a warm, rounded voice, she somehow has difficulty in coming to grips with the deeper meaning of the text. Like in ‘Doch wer mag ertragen den Tag wenn er kommet’ (But who may abide the day of His coming). On the other hand, her ‘Er war verschmähet’ (He was despised) left the lighter voice of Bernarda Fink (Paul McCreesh, my comparison on SACD) far behind.

On the whole and in the capable hands of Katschner, the to my mind well-chosen (in terms of equal footing) vocal team blended in very well in the overall sound stage, having a good balance with the orchestra. Nothing but praise there, for me the best part being that Katschner had not opted for a counter tenor. Unless you have a Philippe Jarusky at your disposal, a less capable counter tenor often has to push his voice to the upper limit with such an effort that it tends to lose it tonal steadiness, leaving, furthermore, little room for ‘interpretation’.

And, of course, Katschner had, with the Dresdner Kammerchor, singing the notably difficult parts without any sign of strain, a more than superb choral support.

The big question is: What is the overall performance like? Is it worth your while in comparison to the one’s we know? In my case, I compared with Paul McCreesh. There are, indeed, remarkable differences in performance. McGreesh had, at least on paper, the better soloists, supported by the Gabrieli Consort and Players. However, a top cast does not necessarily make a good Messiah. The more so, because he was not helped by the quality of the sound. The Emil Berliner SACD version of this 1996 recording is no match for the quality the sound engineers of the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi were able to produce. Shortcomings in dynamics are not beneficial to those parts of the Messiah were emotion is called for and Bernarda Fink sounded as though she was singing behind a curtain. (Another proof that super audio is only superior to RBCD if it has been recorded that way, preferably in DSD. Apart from the benefit of a possibly better master tape, you won’t get out what hasn’t been put in).

Katschner’s tempi are moderately middle of the road. He does not try to ‘reinvent’ Handel’, though his’ is a thoroughly period performance with the kind of attack that has now become fashionable. But never with the exaggeration Italian period bands seem to like so much. Katschner and, indeed, the vocal cast, drawing their experience from Handel’s operas, make this performance more theatrical than some would perhaps like the Messiah to be.

Moreover, I find Katschner‘s approach a trifle too severe, lacking some joy and sparkle one finds in Anglo-Saxon recordings. For instance: ‘Erfreu, dich Mächtig, o Tochter zu Zion’ (Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion) sounds, beautiful though it is sung by Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, more factual than full of joy. The missing sparkle becomes clear in some of the chorales, like ‘Sein Joch ist selich, sein Tragen ist leicht’ (His Yoke is easy, and His burthen is light). On the other hand, some may argue that McGreesh is too fast and too light-hearted.

The bottom line: this is a typical German performance in language, tone and approach. And a very good one at that. I do not think that it will become a universal primary choice, but I, for one, and in spite of some minor points, have thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope someone else will as well.

Copyright © 2013 Adrian Quanjer and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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