Advent Calendar Day 8 – For unto us a child is born (Handel)

You can’t have Advent without The Messiah, at least not in Australia. Though, actually, I’ve never managed to sing in a performance of The Messiah, which suggests I’m doing it wrong. Anyway, this was another of the quotes from the Advent Service on Sunday, and since we did this piece in Advent a few years ago, I thought, why not? After all, the lyrics are appropriate, it’s got lots of lovely baroque twiddly bits (I especially like the bit towards the end when the sopranos and altos are singing their coloratura bits in thirds – so much fun!), and it’s a nice cheery contrast to yesterday’s piece. Perfect.

And then I went looking for a performance I liked.

For most of the pieces I want to share in this calendar, the problem is finding any performance at all. Often I can’t – there’s a lovely piece of Gibbons I continually look for recordings of, but so far without success. With The Messiah, of course, the problem is reversed – there are so many performances that it’s hard to choose one, and of course it’s sung so often that you can wade through a lot of truly dreadful performances before finding a good one. I found this one on my fourth attempt, and instantly realised that I had to share it with you, because this is The Messiah like you’ve never seen it before, unless you were an intervarsity chorister with even worse traditions than the choirs I was in at uni.

For this, my friends, is The Messiah – with hand actions (putting the Hand back into Handel…)(that sounds a lot dodgier than I meant it to)! I can honestly say that I don’t understand the hand actions, and indeed spent most of the piece giggling maniacally at them. And then there’s that woman in the middle who looks like she is cooking up something at a chemistry bench. Though, actually, I have no idea what she is really doing. I’m open to suggestions, though. And there appears to be an infant crawling around on one side of the stage, which at least makes some sort of sense.

It’s truly bizarre – and yet the singing itself is extremely good. You can even hear the altos! This is quite rare, in my experience. The performance is by the Schoenberg choir, and as someone who really does not get Schoenberg I can only conclude that they feel it is their Scheonberg duty to make even Handel’s Messiah incomprehensible…

Enjoy! And if you do figure out what the woman in the middle is doing, please tell me.

Edited December 2017: So it turns out that this particular recording is part of an entire Messiah production created by Klaus Guth, who evidently thought that what the Messiah truly needed was a narrative about funerals, suicide, adultery and really dysfunctional families.  Also interpretative dance.  And a sign language interpreter – but only for the instrumental bits.  It is truly bizarre, and it *should not* work, but bizarrely, it does, at least for me, on an emotional level.  It is now required viewing for me every December.  Because, oh yes, I went straight out and bought the DVD as soon as I learned that it existed…  You can watch the entire thing here.  Go on, I dare you.  But be warned – you will never be able to sing ‘How Beautiful Are The Feet’ again without giggling.

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