John P. Katsantonis


Nation’s Top Music Critics Name Their Favorite “Messiah”

Long-time and first-time classical musical lovers who may be fretting about which version of George Frederick Handel’s “Messiah” to purchase this Christmas need fret no longer. A survey conducted of the members of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) by Music Academy Online (MAO) has identified the critics’ best-loved recordings of the immortal piece.

Topping the list is the 1980 recording conducted by Christopher Hogwood, with soloists Emma Kirkby, Judith Nelson, Carolyn Watkinson, Paul Elliott and David Thomas. The orchestra is The Academy of Ancient Music, and the CD version was released on October 10, 1991 on Decca/L'Oiseau-Lyre. Several versions tied for second place, with an equal number of votes. They were:

  1. EMI’s 1990 CD release with Andrew Davis conducting the Toronto Symphony and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, with featured soloists Kathleen Battle, Florence Quivar, John Aler, and Samuel Ramey.
  2. The 1966 recording released on CD by Phillips in 1993, performed by London Symphony Orchestra with soloists Helen Watts, Heather Harper, Ralph Downes, John Shirley-Quirk, Leslie Pearson, John Wakefield and William Lang, conducted by Sir Collin Davis and John Alldis.
  3. Two Robert Shaw Orchestra versions: one with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chamber Choir (Telarc CD-80093) and a remastered 2004 version with soloists Richard Lewis, Thomas Paul, Judith Raskin, Florence Kopleff, Robert Conant and Robert Arnold, with James Smith on trumpet, on RCA/Red Seal.
  4. The 1976 Decca recording conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, released on CD in 1995 (based on the first London performances of the "Messiah'' in 1743, not its final 1751 version), performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, with soloists Philip Langridge, Anna Reynolds, Gwynne Howell, and Elly Ameling.
  5. Two versions conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1996 version on ASV, 2006 version on Signum UK), both featuring Felicity Lott, Robert Lloyd, and Phillip Langridge.

Since these and more than 800 other recorded versions of Handel’s “Messiah” are available at alone, MAO conducted this survey, to help novice classical music lovers learn which are the most critically acclaimed, and to help Holiday shoppers make the most informed gift-giving decision possible.

This, as part of its ongoing mission: to bring together musicians, scholars, educators, orchestras and ensembles, academic and other institutions, and vendors in order to provide music lovers with a completely unique online environment in which to foster and cultivate their appreciation for music.

To learn more about the organization, visit

Complete survey results are available by contacting MAO founder and president David Schwartz, PhD., at

The purpose of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) is to act as an educational medium for the promotion of high standards of music criticism in the press of the Americas, to hold meetings in which self-criticism and exchange of ideas will promote educational opportunities, and to increase general interest in the growing culture of the Americas.

MCANA is a member of the National Music Council, which was formed in 1940 to provide a forum for the discussion of the country's national music affairs, to act as a clearing house for the joint operation and decisions of its members, and to work as a force to strengthen the importance of music in our society and culture. The Council has a membership of 50 national music organizations encompassing every form of professional and commercial music activity.

To learn more, please visit