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Category:    Home > Reviews > Handel's Messiah (DTS DVD-Audio)

Handel’s Messiah (DVD-Audio)


Music: A     MLP 5.1: B     DTS 5.1: B+     Dolby Digital Stereo: B-



In 1737 George Frideric Handel was diagnosed with acute muscular rheumatism, which caused him to spend excess amount of time in steam baths.  He would sit in them for much longer than the suggested time, but this caused a ‘healing’, which friends (religious friends especially) considered a miracle.  This would allow him to return to work, where he would pump out some of his most well received works such as Xerxes, and especially his masterpiece, the Oratorio Messiah.  The basis for Messiah comes from the writings of Charles Jennens from the Gospal in Leicestershire.  (Note: the spelling of Gospal is correct in this case)


Handel’s Messiah has been interpreted and performed in many versions, with various instrumentations ranging from a choir of 2,000 individuals to a 400-piece orchestra.  It is hard to imagine what Handel’s original design was for this work, and especially hard to think about what classical composers such as this would be capable of in today’s world of recording.  Not only recording, but the art of transforming those recordings into multi-channel playback, such as the case with this DVD-Audio from DTS Entertainment. 


This particular recording was done in 1995 with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is comprised of 325 individuals.  They are accompanied by a 90-member orchestra known as the NightPro Symphony Orchestra, which in this case includes harpsichordist Igor Kipnis, organist John Longhurst, and four of the leading oratorio soloists.  Conducting the orchestra is Sir David Willcocks, who has been involved in Handel’s Messiah either by singing in, playing in, or conducting for 70 years. The chief recording engineer was John Mosely, who died shortly after in a tragic plane crash, but was able to complete this amazing recording utilizing state-of-the-art recording and digital devices to capture the authentic recreation of Handel’s work. 


Most people have never actually heard this entire piece, but are subject to snippets such as the overly used “Hallelujah” from the Part II.  When you actually do get to experience this entire body of work, the result can be intoxicating as it engulfs you starting out relatively mild and slow, but quickly gains pace along the way and swells.  The listener cannot help but feel the Heavenly-like rejoicing of angels and the strong brass bantering out powerful choruses to further emphasize the power of Handel’s vision.  The entire Messiah is compiled of 45 parts, which are all individually tracked on this DVD-Audio by their Parts.  It would be impossible to list them all here, but the entire run-time is approximately 2 ½ hours. 


The setup is quite basic as the multi-channel mixes demonstrate a full-range of sound coming from all speakers.  The soloists are featured in the front three speakers, while the choir is pushed into the surrounds.  The organ typically comes from all about creating a steady amount of sound, so that the mix never feels empty.  There is very little ‘toying’ done with the instrumentation, but rather just delivers uncompromising solid sound.  For this type of music this is certainly the best approach and the focus was on delivering clear and clean sound that would bring further life into Handel’s opus. 


There are three playback modes for this DVD-Audio, those being MLP 5.1, DTS 5.1, and a Dolby Digital Stereo option.  All three are good in their own right, but the most natural sounding out of the three is the DTS 5.1 mix.  The MLP lossless does provide a nice alternative, but what is missing here is some of the fullness that occurs within the DTS mix.  Check out the review for Queen’s DVD-Audio of The Game for a better understanding of the MLP process.  Although the stereo mix works fine, there is no comparison as the choir is reduced to solely being in the front two speakers, which does not give the authentic feel of being surrounding by the angelic sound.  The MLP 5.1 and the DTS 5.1 present a very comfortable mix allowing the viewer to feel the presence of the music from all sides.  If one were seeing this performed live within a church with acoustics, the sound would resonate from all corners and circle in on the listener.  This is precisely the intent of this DVD-Audio taking full advantage of the five speakers. 


Although there are no supplements on the disc itself there is an insert, which is very informative providing credit information for all those involved.  Background on The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, information on the soloist, technical information about the recording, and of course information of Handel himself is all included.  This is one of the best booklets in terms of aiding with the experience by giving the consumer some further information to engulf.  DTS Entertainment has been on the verge of some really great discoveries since their involvement with DVD-Audio’s and are constantly delivering superior versions of lost material, unique material, popular material, and just gems that need discovered in multi-channel.  Thanks to them that we are able to get a better understanding for the way in which classical pieces ought to be heard, which can only further our appreciation for a lost culture in music.



-   Nate Goss


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