This aria is pretty much a requirement for the first week of Advent. For one thing, it’s from Handel’s Messiah, which is compulsory listening at this time of year, at least in my world. For another, it’s one of the classic texts for the service of nine lessons and carols which we do at Wesley each year. I always have a hard time in that service keeping still, because almost every text read is something I know music for. (Actually, with more than a dozen years of church choir singing, I’m getting to be that way in an awful lot of services. One really does wind up with an extensive knowledge of the King James translation, at least.)
Of course, the question is always which version of this aria to use, because everyone has done one. I am usually unable to resist Ian Bostridge’s absolutely impeccable version – I love his lightness of touch with the coloratura, and also I have a serious musical crush on him, so there’s that, too. Or there’s the version by Jon Vickers, which I have been told by wiser heads that I should not like, but I secretly do anyway.
But while I was trolling YouTube, listening to more versions of Ev’ry Valley than any sane person should have to endure, I came across this very cheerful and bouncy version sung by Juan Diego Florez, a Peruvian tenor, known for his bel canto roles, and I found it rather irresistible. I suspect that a person of true musical refinement (i.e., not me) would prefer a somewhat more sedate pace for this aria, but it’s certainly fun hearing someone go at the coloratura like that and get it right. Very exciting to listen to – you go, Juan!
Interestingly, his ornaments sound a bit weird to me – not wrong per se, but maybe more bel canto than baroque? Since I don’t actually know what I’m talking about, this is probably just me being used to particular styles of ornamentation with Handel, but I’d be curious to know if he is breaking any rules, stated or unstated.
Of course, the one thing truly lacking from this aria is the recit that goes before it [Edited to add: not any more! I found a version with it! But I’m still keeping the next bit, because I find it amusing]. For some reason, it’s very hard to find anyone recording both as a single clip, and I can’t find a version by Florez at all. But we can’t possibly do without it, and so, as a special treat, here’s Richard Croft’s version of ‘Comfort Ye’, from the deeply weird staged version of the Messiah by Claus Guth. The special treat part is that you also get to see the overture which Guth, in his wisdom, decided required a sign language interpreter.
Aren’t you glad you saw that? If you want more, the entire staged version of the Messiah can be found here. Just be warned – you will never be able to hear ‘How Beautiful are the Feet’ again without giggling.