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Musical Advent Calendar: Day 5

It wouldn't be Advent or Christmas without at least one reference to Handel's oratorio Messiah. Composed in 1741, this is perhaps Handel's most famous and enduring work.

Part I of the oratorio is concerned with the Incarnation, and illustrates well the two-fold character of Advent in which we now find ourselves. There are some arias in part I that foretell the birth of the Messiah, and others that focus on his second coming at the end of time.

I have chosen the aria, normally sung by an alto, 'But who may abide'. The text is from Malachai 3.2 and in it we hear the prophet's foretelling of the coming of the Lord. Unlike the opening recitative and aria, which are both joyful musical announcements of the coming of the Messiah, this movement is quite stern and filled with dread.

Listen out in particular for the frenetic middle section ('For he is like a refiners fire') - particularly to the furiously quick string playing trying to emulate the fire.

The soloist in this recording is Lawrence Zazzo, with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra conducted by Rene Jacobs. This is my current favourite recording of Messiah! (full version available here)

Fr Philip

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?

For he is like a refiner's fire... Malachi 3.2

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