The Messiah was already a hit in Handel’s own lifetime. The first performances of the oratorio attracted so many listeners that ladies were asked not to come to the theatre in hooped skirts. The frequent performances of the music and its great success led to the circulation of many different versions of the work. None of them can be considered definitive, since Handel regularly adapted the score for specific productions.
Handel wrote the Messiah at lightning speed during the winter of 1741-42. The three-part oratorio is based on biblical themes: the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, transformed with impressive care into magnificent arias and choruses. Under the rousing leadership of Richard Egarr, Academy of Ancient Music has an unrivalled mastery of all aspects of the Messiah: from understated emotion to the majestic grandeur of the Hallelujah. As the Financial Times (2013) puts it: “Forty years on, and 300 recordings later, the Academy of Ancient Music is a leader in the field.”