Sunday, March 28, 2010

Budget Chorus at Full Price?

So, you're looking for a recording of Handel's Messiah and you don't mind spending extra? Well, there's one on eBay for $950,000. [tip to Twitterer @otterhouse.] A hefty price for a box of old 78's from 1947, but...wait, it's only Vol. 1. Hope you're not a big fan of The Trumpet Shall Sound. Still, not only does it apparently have some sort of Antique Roadshow value, it was also a pretty specially made recording, if its promotional materials are to be believed:
“…This recording, designed for home listening, required a great deal of care and preparation. New techniques were employed, and many hours were consumed in experimentation and rehearsal before actual records were made...Large choruses are usually ideal for concert performances of The Messiah; for this recording, which is designed to be played in the home, however, it was found that greater clarity and better balance could be achieved if a chorus of 150 voices were employed…”
Whoa....did you catch that last part? This recording will cost you almost a million dollars and they didn't even spring for the big chorus! But, of course, what's really most interesting here is that, from this 1940's perspective, a chorus of 150 is small for Messiah. Things have obviously changed - last time I heard Boston Baroque's version, I don't think the chorus numbered more than 24 or so, maybe less. I'm not going to get into a whole "historically informed performance" discussion here, but I can't help feeling nostalgic for a time when 150 singers was small for a Messiah chorus. In fact, I felt cheated last year when the Boston Symphony used undersized string sections for Mozart and Mendelssohn symphonies. I'm gonna bet if Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Handel showed up and reduced forces were being used intentionally, they'd be insulted. After all, I think these old-fashioned composers still knew something about "musical badassery."

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