Sir Andrew Davis is the latest in a long (and distinguished) line of musicians to be tempted to “arrange” Messiah for larger forces – a line that includes Goossens and Beecham. Davis’s stated aim “was to keep Handel’s notes, harmonies, and style intact, but to make use of all the colours available from the modern symphony orchestra in order to underline the mood and meaning of individual movements.” Davis spent ten months creating his version for the Toronto Symphony and this live recording comes from performances in December 2015.
Given that musicians the world over have spent the last 60 years or so discussing historically informed performance, this sort of “super sizing” seems counter-cultural these days, especially when the arranger claims he wants to keep the composer’s “style” intact. Surely style includes orchestration? In the end, however, it comes down to personal taste as to whether you like your Handel with cymbals, sleigh bells and marimba; woodwind darting hither and yon and a liberal sprinkling of cascading harp.
For me, Davis’s arrangement is thoughtful and quirky, but ultimately an uneasy amalgam of things proper and things outrageous. Perhaps it would have been better to break all rules, fall for the Goossens-style “vulgarity”, have an accelerando in the Hallelujah Chorus and not care two hoots about “style”.