To King George II belongs the distinction of having
been the last English monarch to lead his troops into battle. This was
at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 when the armies of Britain and her
allies defeated the French. As part of the subsequent celebrations in
London Handel composed an elaborate setting of the Te Deum. Adorned
by festive trumpets and drums, this had its first performance in the
Chapel Royal in November 1743.
This Te Deum is the principal item on this Naxos CD
in which the German mixed voice choir, the Alsfelder Vokalensemble under
their founder and director, Wolfgang Helbich are joined by the Polish
period instrument group, Concerto Polacco. They give a spirited and
enjoyable account of the work, which is cast in 13 short sections. Though
the piece is chiefly celebratory in style there are reflective moments
too (such as the chorus, ‘Make them to be numbered with Thy saints’)
and the performers are suitably responsive.
I suspect the choir contains around 30 singers. They
are well tuned and blend effectively. The sound they produce suggests
that young singers comprise the choir. The orchestra gives them alert
and supple accompaniment. Wolfgang Helbich’s direction is stylish and
he keeps things moving nicely.
It is good that the pick of the soloists is the bass,
Chris Dixon because his is the most prominent of the solo parts. He
is forthright and polished, projecting well and every word is crystal
clear. I also liked the soprano, Dorothee Mields, who is beautifully
poised in ‘To Thee all angels cry aloud’, though she does have a tendency
to ‘swell’ sustained notes. The tenor also sings well but I’m afraid
I did not care for the timbre of the alto soloist, whose English pronunciation
The A major Te Deum was new to me. It dates from 1726
but as we learn from the informative notes, it was actually based on
an earlier setting in the key of B flat which Handel had written for
his patron, the Earl of Carnarvon, later the 1st Duke of
Chandos. Though Chandos was a munificent patron there were limits both
to the size and resources of his chapel. This Te Deum is, therefore,
on a much more intimate scale than the "Dettingen" setting.
To the usual strings and keyboard Handel added a bassoon, an oboe and
a flute. The latter lends a lovely, mellow colouring to some of the
movements. The performance of this smaller work is no less accomplished
than that of its D major counterpart.
Neither of these works ranks amongst Handel’s finest.
However, this is a lively and enjoyable issue which will give much pleasure
and which can be recommended safely, particularly at the Naxos price.
The recorded sound is good if not exceptional.
Terry barfoot has also listened to this disc
Handel left few settings of the Te Deum, and those
he did write are not among his most famous compositions. Therefore this
Naxos issue has enterprise to commend it, offering two worthy compositions
to the catalogue.
The larger of the two pieces, on a scale of more than two to one (38
minutes to 15 minutes) is the Dettingen Te Deum, composed to celebrate
the victory over the French in 1743 at Dettingen in Franconia. Although
there are no stars on view, the solo team emerges from this performance
with much credit; indeed they are one of its prime strengths. The orchestral
playing has rather less to commend it, since the strings are not very
polished and the ensemble somewhat loose. For altogether better playing
try the performance on Archiv (410 647-2) directed by Simon Preston,
even if the drawbacks of the present version are not completely damaging,
since the performance redeemed by the vocal contributions, both solo
The Te Deum in A major is much less well known, containing some attractive
music coloured here by distinctive wind playing. Those who know the
Opus 3 concerti grossi may well recognise some of the themes, which
Handel later adapted. For this setting was probably written during the
mid-1720s for the Chapel Royal. The music is little known and Naxos
is therefore to be commended for issuing it. As we might expect of Handel,
the music is thoroughly attractive, with abundant touches of imagination.