Friday, November 25, 2011

Sargent's 1946 "Messiah"

The Christmas season is upon us again, and, to help us get into the spirit, here is Malcolm Sargent's complete 1946 recording of Handel's "Messiah," the first of four he was to make of the oratorio, and the first of three with the Huddersfield Choral Society and Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.  This was intended to replace Beecham's pioneering 1928 set in the Columbia catalogue, and would, in the American catalogues at least, come into competition with Beecham's second recording when RCA Victor released it in 1948.  Sargent's account of the work is not quite as individual as Beecham's, perhaps, but on its own terms it is very satisfying, and boasts superb lady soloists in Isobel Baillie, soprano, and Gladys Ripley, contralto - neither of whom returned for Sargent's subsequent recordings.  The male soloists are James Johnston, tenor, and Norman Walker, bass.

Among the many felicities in this performance I would like to single out just one - notice what an absolute pianissimo the chorus achieves by the end of "All We Like Sheep."  I don't think that the sense of horror over "and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" has ever been conveyed more forcefully on record.

Handel: The Messiah
Soloists, Huddersfield Choral Society and Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Malcolm Sargent
Recorded July 12-16 and September 26, 1946
Columbia Masterworks Set MM-666, nineteen 78-rpm records
Link 1 (FLAC files, part 1, 173.77 MB)
Link 2 (FLAC files, part 2, 189.86 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 174.7 MB)

As I mentioned earlier this year, when I posted several galleries of Steinweiss record covers of which this "Messiah" set was one, somebody at Columbia had a really wicked sense of humor, making this Masterworks Set No. 666!  I suspect Goddard Lieberson himself had a hand in this - he was head of Masterworks by this time.  Am I the only one who finds this funny?  Look at this picture of the two spines for the two albums - dotted with crosses, as if to ward off the evil influence of the fatal number:


  1. Thanks Bryan - not sure I have ever heard this set, and am eager to hear Baillie and Ripley.

  2. Thank you! Always love to hear Isobel Baillie (I have an LP set with Baillie on my LP blog) and Sargent as well!

  3. Bryan,

    Many thanks for this! I am looking forward to comparing it with Sargent's later Liverpool effort. In that record, Marjorie Thomas melts my heart in He was despised.

    I will soon be offering a Messiah, done in 1977 with Boston's Handel and Haydn Society under Thomas Dunn. In that record, David Evitts is the big draw.


    1. Is that Dunn recording available somewhere? I have the LP's but not a good setup for recording them to my PC. Thanks!

  4. 666 - he he he. I'm never sure whether Sargeant was under-rated, or just a bit ordinary, but I've never warmed to him. Maybe this is my chance! Thanks for Isobel Baillie