There is never a shortage of performances of Handel’s Messiah this time of year, and it can be nearly impossible to distinguish between them. Some practical advice for novices would include: avoid the do-it-yourself variety, which makes about as much sense and is as aesthetically meaningful as a dance-it-yourself Nutcracker; also avoid community performances, unless of course you have a friend or relative singing in one. If you want to hear a first-class Messiah done the way its composer intended, attend the best Messiah in the city, put on by the City Musick. It’s not just the unparalleled sense of style, vision, and exuberance CM’s artistic director Elaine Scott Banks brings to the music, but also that the small chorus gets more sound than groups four times its size and is always clearly understandable even in the most densely textured sections. Some of the best early-music singers in the country are brought in as soloists, and the period-instrument orchestra–the only one in the city doing the work this season–is superb. The result is a sparkling Messiah in which every phrase of Handel’s glorious music can be heard on its own terms and in which a sense of original context is fully restored. Tonight, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 1977 Sheridan, Evanston, and Saturday, 7:30 PM, Blackstone Theatre, 60 E. Balbo; 489-2100.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Gordon Meyer.