I have fond and not so fond memories of “The Messiah”. The earliest memory I have of it is when my family and I were on a road trip, and Dad had “The Messiah” playing at the highest decibel possible. I was sitting in the back seat of the car, pressing my headphones as hard as I could in my ears and praying that my Walkman wouldn’t skip as it balanced precariously on my lap. My small headphones and walkman1 could not compete with “The Messiah”. Dad always won the battle2. “The Messiah” now signifies more than forced musical education during car trips. It has become a Christmas institution for me, the US, and probably for the UK.
Because it is an institution. Because it is a wonderful oratorio. Because you are going to listen to it the next few days, I would like to offer you the most exuberant and beautiful recording of “The Messiah”, Sir Thomas Beecham’s and The Royal Philharmonic’s “Messiah”.
It is magnificent. The singing of “Every Valley” by dramatic tenor John Vickers is stunning3. I mean, literally, stunning. When I first heard it, my Dad was playing it in the kitchen. I walked into the room and stopped. I remember saying out loud, “Who IS this”4.
The choruses are wonderful too. My only problem with them is that when the tempo is slow, Sir Beecham takes it slower. Same goes for the fast tempi5. Sometimes I wonder how the choir is supposed to take a deep enough breath to carry them through the melismas of “He Trusted In God”.
Don’t waste your time with other recordings of the Messiah. This is the only one that matters.
You can purchase it here from Amazon.
Here is John Vickers singing “Every Valley”
Here is an article written by Michael Linton about John Vickers.
1. My Walkman could only go up to volume level 9, which I always found curious. Why wasn’t 10 the highest level? Why did it stop at 9? This in turn reminds me of the joke in “This Is Spinal Tap”
Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.
Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.
2. And he still does. I have since upgraded to an iPod and Urbanears headphones. But, it doesn’t matter when Dad is playing Wagner. Tristan, Wotan, and Brunhilde. They are always victorious in the battle for musical supremacy/loudness.
3. Seriously. I know it sounds dramatic but, with his voice I truly come to believe that the “crooked will be straight”. For real.
4. Subsequently, I have discovered my dream to be a dramatic tenor. Really, I just want to be John Vickers. (also I understand that this is not possible)
5. I studied Aristotle in college and, I really believe in his idea about hitting the extremes to find the mean. Sir Beecham is all about the extremes.