Advent Calendar Day 3: Comfort Ye & Every Valley (Handel)

Another piece from our yearly Advent Service, and also from Handel’s Messiah.  You’d think I’d be tired of it by now, but some things never grow old…

The Messiah is one of those Oratorios which really doesn’t belong at Christmas, but you’re never going to convince the English speaking world of that.  The number of Messiahs performed at this time of year (and even on Christmas Eve) is astonishing, especially given that large swathes of the libretto are Easter related. That being said, the libretto for this recitative and aria come straight from one of the standard readings for Advent 1 (Isaiah 40):

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain…

So yeah, that one does fit in.  Kobie van Rensburg is a South African tenor, which would explain why his accent in this keeps on surprisingly me slightly.  His ‘Comfort ye’ seems more careful than other versions I’ve heard – he puts every note and even every trill down very precisely and with very clear diction, especially in the first section, which is sung quite plainly.  I like the way he suddenly brings strength and passion to his voice at the end of the recitative.  The aria is very full and energetic, which I like.

Having said that – I have to admit, the standard for this one for me will always be Ian Bostridge’s version, which is light and effortless in sound, and just feels more baroque to me.  Another rather gorgeous version is that of Philip Langridge, who has some very pretty ornamentation, though his voice again falls at the heavier end of the spectrum.

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