Two Beautiful New Albums for the Christmas Season from Jordi Savall and Vladimir Jurowski – The Messiah and the Nutcracker

Christmas Music

I’ve already written several blog posts on music for the Christmas season.

By the way, should you follow any other faith, please be aware that while I grew up in a Christian country, I’m agnostic and really see Christmas more as a beautiful family tradition, that nicely enough has led to the creation of some really beautiful music.

Both works I’ll be discussing here, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Händel’s Messiah, are not properly speaking Christmas music, but the Nutcracker is obviously strongly associated with the season, and at least part I of the Messiah deals directly with the birth of Jesus, so has a more direct connection.

The last couple of weeks saw the release of two new great recordings of these old warhorses. Jordi Savall has attacked the Messiah, and Vladimir Jurowski the Nutcracker. Let me start with Savall

Händel: The Messiah – Jordi Savall – Le Concert des Nations (AliaVox 2019)

Georg Friedrich Händel Messiah An Oratorio HWV 56 La Capella Reial de Catalunya Jordi Savall Alia Vox 2019 DSD 24 88

I’ve already written about 3 excellent versions of the Messiah. So is there really a need to add another one? Well I just bought it, so for me, the answer is yes.

Here’s why: I really like Jordi Savall, his early music and baroque recordings are always worth exploring, see for example his recording of the Bach and Vivaldi Magnificat. So I clearly had high expectations.

Nicely enough, I wasn’t disappointed. Let’s compare this to my preferred version so far by Emmanuelle Haïm. Haïm really has an incomparable swing, which really makes baroque music so enjoyable.

Savall often takes slower tempi, but the entire recording has just so much brilliance, shine and sparkle, that I was immediately reminded of one of those giant Christmas trees that many cities put up (e.g. the Rockefeller one in NYC).

And this is music you really want to sparkle. The singers really shine as well. One of my favourites is “He shall feed his flock” from part II, with Rachel Redmond and Damien Guillon. Just beautiful.

The Nutcracker – Vladimir Jurowski – State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov” (Pentatone 2019)

Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Vladimir Jurowski State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia "Evgeny Svetlanov" Pentatone 2019

Some say Russian music only should be played by Russian orchestras. My favourite version of the Nutcracker proves otherwise, but still there is something to be said for the combination.

Jurowski had already recorded a very beautiful Swan Lake, so I was curious to hear what he did with the Nutcracker, especially in an all live recording.

I wasn’t disappointed. In a way, this album is kind of the reversal of the Messiah situation, here my favourite Rattle version is the shiny Christmas tree, whereas the Jurowski version clearly has a lot of swing and verve. You are drawn in from the first minute of the overture, and if you can sit still during the enchanting Flower Waltz, you’re probably deaf.

The only minor issue I have with this album is the occasional imprecision in timing of the orchestra, these are due to the live recording here, I’m sure in a studio version these would have been edited out.

But this is nitpicking, overall this is a truly engaging and beautiful Nutcracker.

So in a nutshell, both are albums that are a must have for the season, and as a cherry on the cake, are actually quite well recorded on top of everything else.

My rating: 5 stars for both

You can find them here (Messiah) and here (Nutcracker), both on Qobuz.

Author: Musicophile

I'm not a professional musician, I don't work in the music industry, I'm just what the name says, somebody who loves music. I've been in love with music for all of my life, took piano lessons for nearly 10 years, and played in several amateur Jazz groups. I go to concerts, both classical and Jazz, quite regularly. And I collect music previously on vinyl and CDs, now on my computer, and am slightly OCD on my music collection. You can reach me at Musicophile1(AT)gmail.com

8 thoughts on “Two Beautiful New Albums for the Christmas Season from Jordi Savall and Vladimir Jurowski – The Messiah and the Nutcracker”

  1. My old bad habit of collecting more recordings of my lovely music. This is especially true in vocal music. Of my ten Messiah recordings, I also like Haïm and Butt. Unfortunately, I can’t pick the singers. Wherever a counter-tenor sings in “He shall feed his flock”, I always want to hear Scholl (Christie record). However, here on Savall’s recording, I was a little surprised at “Comfort ye My People”, where I hear the same tenor sound as Butt’s recording.
    Overall, I completely agree with your opinion.
    I also need this recording along with the other ten.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Collecting music can be a dangerous hobby isn’t it?

      Fully agree with your admiration of Scholl.

      By the way, beyond the soloists, the choir plays a really important role for this oratorio. I forgot specifically mention it in my review but I think the Capella Reial is doing a particularly good job here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, the choir. They sing very nicely. Here I feel a little bit Savall’s slower tempi.
        By the way, from a chorus standpoint, for me, Handel – Solomon (McCreesh – Scholl) is the oratorio standard.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I believe you touched an important point with the “majestic tree” metaphor, and for that purpose Savall, I feel, join forces with my other, older, favorite – the performance of Hogwood, who is no slouch when it come to his soloists (led by Kirkby) – as my preferred HOLIDAY Messiah.
    But there’s something very very special in the opposite, intimate, performance that John Butt created, as one might be able to discover by sampling first the aria “How beautiful are the feet”, which he transferred to a most lively duet. And his performance is sparkled by other moments of such ingenuity and beauty.

    Liked by 2 people

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