3 Stars Out Of 5
First Half Excellent, Second Half Questionable
August 8, 2011
Jennifer @ Quiverfullfamily.com
It was with great anticipation that I dove into an audio recording of Calvin R. Stapert's Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People. Unabridged, this recording has a running time of 5.5 hours, making it a quick listen. Stapert first grounds listeners thoroughly in the background of European music that led to the composition of Messiah, Handel's own life leading up to the composition of the work, and how it was influenced by opera. Newcomers to technical musical appreciation will also be equipped with the terminology to understand various musical flourishes and stylings, which are all clearly explained.
After the first half of the book provides listeners with a firm grounding for the setting Messiah was composed in, it then moves on to explain its importance, popularity, and various methods of performance throughout the years since its original composition in the 1700s. Some theological matters, controversies, the biography of the text compiler, and other fascinating details dig deep into understanding the details of Messiah.
The narration by James Adams is superb - almost too much so. His emphatic pronunciation of Italian names almost lost me several times - they do not sound anglicized at all, and therefore, were somewhat difficult for me to understand. In fact, this was a bit annoying from time to time. His lofty British accent lends a formal feel to the audio book.
Drawing from primary sources including private correspondence, newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and much more, Stapert paints an intriguing portrait of the times during which Messiah was composed, as well as the ongoing influence of this work on other composers and the general public. Stapert is throughout, interesting, and obviously knows his stuff.
The second half of the recording suffers however from a difficulty stemming from the audio book format itself. Essentially a line-by-line recounting of the text of Messiah as well as the musical styles used with each line, Stapert goes into depth in certain scenes, analyzing the meaning of certain musical flourishes, pointing out intricacies, and explaining the choice and meaning of the developing story of Christ and the salvation He brought to the world.
Unfortunately there are only 3 - 4 actual Naxos audio recordings of excerpts from Messiah to go along with these detailed thoughts. At times the author will exhort readers to listen to this, or listen to that, but it proves impossible without access to the actual recording. I hope to buy a copy of Messiah for myself, but even then, I am uncertain as to how I could listen to both the analysis and the music at the same time. It might be preferable to have this title in print to refer to visually with the music in hand. I doubt that I could hold the level of detail shared in the audio book in mind for long enough to actually apply it to the music when listened to separately.
All in all, while I greatly enjoyed learning more about the history of the development of music in Europe, and of Handel's work in particular, I feel that the usefulness of this recording is found mainly in the first portion of the recording, and less so in the second due to the difficulties stated above.
I received a digital download of this audio book from ChristianAudio for the purposes of review. All opinions are genuine and my own.