December 05, 1988 12:00 PM

First off, it’s not The Messiah. It’s plain old ordinary Messiah, points out an announcer in the introduction. He also tells us that when Handel composed the oratorio sometime around 1740, he never had in mind the gargantuan productions so common today. Then, the piece was seldom performed by more than 60, including instrumentalists. For this authentic version, which uses Westminster Abbey as a backdrop, conductor Christopher Hogwood collected 18th-century instruments (or copies thereof) to accompany a few members of the Westminster choir. Don’t expect any decking of the halls or even the architectural wonders of Westminster: Director Roy Tipping leaves his camera focused on the choir members most of the time. The abbey’s acoustics, however, make for such clean resonance that this videotape rivals—if not outperforms—most albums in the sound department, and soprano Emma Kirkby’s voice, especially, does Handel proud. So push in the tape, tune in your ears and save your eyes for Miracle on 34th Street. (Home Vision, $39.95; 800-262-8600)

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