Handel’s “Messiah” plays no part in the Christmas memories of my childhood in Brussels. In our German Lutheran home, Bach provided the soundtrack. The jubilant opening to his Christmas Oratorio, with its excited trumpets and timpani, rang in the exchange of presents.

It was as a high school exchange student in Pittsburgh that I first encountered Handel’s oratorio, at a “Messiah” singalong where your voice type, rather than your ticket, determined where you sat in the hall. I fell in love with the work’s endless variety of melody and mood, the earthshaking bass arias, the airy calm of the later soprano solos. The pungent beauty of the Tudor text was a revelation to me right at the time that English was becoming my chosen first language. When I returned home, I built Handel’s oratorio into my holiday ritual, listening to my parents’ Neville Marriner recording while wrapping presents or decorating the tree.

I’ve since converted to Judaism, but the work’s themes of yearning for peace, empathy and redemption continue to touch me. This year, I embarked on a “Messiah” marathon, taking in five performances over two weeks. While my professional ear tried to figure out which was the best, I was also curious to hear how the piece changes from one setting to the next and how this music, written in 1741, fits into the fabric of our time.

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I began at David Geffen Hall with the New York Philharmonic, joined by the Westminster Symphonic Choir, led by Jonathan Cohen. Next was the Choir of Trinity Wall Street with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Julian Wachner at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Two “Messiahs” at Carnegie Hall followed, both conducted by Kent Tritle: one with the Oratorio Society of New York, featuring a 200-member amateur choir, the other with the professional group Musica Sacra, accompanied on period instruments.

The final performance, at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side, featured the 12-member vocal ensemble Tenet and the Sebastians playing on historical instruments — with no conductor.

Most relevant: Trinity Wall Street

There’s a reason Trinity’s “Messiah” sits at the top of critics’ lists each year. Mr. Wachner’s take on the score is fresh and urgent, and members of the nimble professional choir step out to sing solos, creating a sense of the oratorio as town hall meeting. In this year’s intimate setting — George Washington prayed at St. Paul’s Chapel after his inauguration in 1789 — even modest voices shone, and certain phrases of the text were especially resonant, like “and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”

Best choir: Westminster Symphonic Choir

Handel puts a chorus through its paces in dazzling numbers like “For unto us a child is born,” full of fleet runs. The small professional ensembles belonging to Trinity and Tenet nailed these virtuosic passages, as they should, but the students of Westminster Choir College dazzled with singing that was precise and radiant, with the warmth that comes from a large ensemble.

Best orchestra: The Sebastians

In Handel, period-instrument ensembles are on their home turf. Trinity is reliably eloquent, but this conductorless group brought laserlike focus to the music and delivered a “Messiah” as chamber music, in which individual instruments became active participants in the drama.

Best rage aria: John Brancy

Handel’s operatic genius comes through most powerfully in his arias for lower voices. The baritone John Brancy, singing with Musica Sacra, summoned real fire-and-brimstone energy in “Why do the nations so furiously rage together.” His onstage colleague Brian Giebler showed that tenors can storm, too, in a temperamental “Thou shalt break them” that ended with him slamming his score shut.

Most majestic ‘Hallelujah’: Oratorio Society

Whether you’re honoring a tradition said to have begun with King George II or are quietly grateful for the chance to stretch your legs, chances are you experience the “Hallelujah” chorus as part of a sea of standing bodies. At Carnegie, the audience members in the hall’s tiered balconies look like modern-dress angels in a Renaissance fresco. And with a huge, diverse amateur chorus onstage, the room tingles with exhilaration.

Most cherubic: Margot Rood and Lauren Snouffer

I heard many wonderful soloists in these performances, but two sopranos stood out. With the Philharmonic, Lauren Snouffer was effervescent in coloratura numbers and gleaming in meditative arias. Margot Rood, a member of Tenet, embodied the spirit of “Rejoice greatly” with a brilliant, zippy tone.

Least performance-like performance: Jolle Greenleaf

The soprano Jolle Greenleaf, of Tenet, sang “I know that my Redeemer liveth” with her customary piercing clarity and straight tone. There’s high art in it, but it sounded untrained and unguarded, a statement of soul-baring sincerity that spread effortlessly through the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer’s large interior and, for an instant, dissolved the line between art and faith.

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