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01 avril 2021

Musical treasures | Messiah / McGegan / Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

par Christopher Blackmon

The Philharmonie team presents its musical treasures.

Christopher Blackmon Music Librarian
Nicholas McGegan / Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra / U.C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus. Georg Friedrich Händel: Messiah. Harmonia Mundi, 1992.

«Nicholas McGegan’s recording of Handel’s oratorio Messiah holds a significant place in my heart as a ‹Musical Treasure› because of who gave it to me and the musical world to which it opened my ears.

As a young boy, I learned the well-known melodies of the Western canon through piano lessons. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Brahms’ Lullaby, and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus all featured in various method books from my childhood. Sensing my early passion for music as my piano skills advanced, my dad encouraged me to deepen my knowledge of classical music by giving me my first complete recordings of several famous works. Among those first CDs was this recording of Messiah.  

Wanting to start with the Hallelujah Chorus, because that was the only part I knew, I was surprised it was not one of the first tracks. It wasn’t even on the first disc! I skipped around to find it, pressed play, and was immediately enraptured by the sound. The small orchestra, complete with harpsichord continuo, and small choir, was completely different to anything I had heard up to then. It was, in essence, my first exposure to historically informed performance practices. It was so ethereal! I started listening again, this time from the beginning of the oratorio, following along with the words printed in the CD booklet. My 10-year-old self was impressed the text was taken from the Bible, thinking Handel must have memorized the entire scripture to be able to compose such a meaningful piece.  And not completely understanding Baroque music terminology, I was terribly confused the word ‹Sinfonia› could refer to something besides a four-movement symphony. 

As I listened to the oratorio more, I began to explore the variants McGegan had included on this recording as an appendix to the main tracks. These alternate versions of several arias exposed me to the ephemeral sounds of countertenors taking the place of altos, and more importantly, taught me that masterpieces can exist in multiple versions while still being correct. This last point was the most important lesson that is still applicable to my daily work as Music Librarian, which requires me to be aware of the different versions – all of which are correct – that exist for the pieces our orchestra performs. 

My dad suddenly passed away a few weeks ago. As I have been reflecting on the influence he had over my life, I can point to the moment when he shared this recording as a pivotal turning point in my musical development. I am here, doing something I love every day for work, in part because he chose to nurture a passion he saw in me as a child.  ‹Hallelujah!› indeed.»