For an infinitely more rewarding fresh look at Handel's most familiar music, look no further than the Dunedin Consort's performance of Handel's first version, premiered at Dublin in 1742. Bizarrely under-represented in concert and on disc, the Dublin score contains some fascinating music that Handel never reused, such as the substantial chorus 'Break forth into joy'. The exuberant direction by harpsichordist John Butt is meticulously stylish and utterly devoid of crassly pretentious egotism. The playing is unerringly spontaneous and dramatically integrated with singers who illustrate profound appreciation of text. Clare Wilkinson's 'He was despised' is most moving, Susan Hamilton effortlessly skips through a delicious 'Rejoice greatly', and bass Matthew Brook sings as if his life depends on it.
Butt bravely resolves to use the same forces Handel had at his disposal in Dublin, which means that the entire oratorio is sung by a dozen singers (with all soloists required to participate in the choruses, as Handel would have expected). Where this approach might risk worthy dull solos churned out by stalwart choir members, the Dunedin Consort's exemplary singers produce virtuoso choruses that are theatrically charged, splendidly poised and exquisitely blended. Old warhorses 'For unto us a child is born' and 'Surely he hath borne our griefs' are delightfully inspiring. Butt and the Dunedin Consort marry astute scholarship to sincere artistic expression and the result is comfortably the freshest, most natural, revelatory and transparently joyful Messiah I have heard for a very long time. (Gramophone)