order to understand the context in which the music recorded
here was written, it is relevant to quote Andrew Gant's explanation
of the term 'Chapel Royal'. It is "strictly a collective
for the body of clergy, musicians and vestry officers attached
to the Royal Household. Its function today is the same as it
was in Handel's (...): to sing the regular services in the Chapel
of whichever Palace the monarch wishes, and to accompany the
monarch to major state services and other events elsewhere as
commanded." It was only in 1714, shortly after Handel started
composing music for the Chapel Royal, that it became based and
sang services in the building known as 'Chapel Royal'. It is
this building which is still the home of the present Chapel
Royal which can be heard on this disc.
anthems here belong to the earliest compositions on English
texts by Handel after his arrival in England. Some were reworked
later when Handel started to compose for James Brydges, known
as the Duke of Chandos, at his house Cannons in Middlesex. The
letters added to the catalogue numbers refer to the several
versions of these anthems. 'As pants the hart' and 'O sing unto
the Lord' were originally composed for the Chapel Royal and
then reworked for Cannons. The former is heard here in the latest
version, written for the Chapel Royal when Handel returned to
composing for its services. The other two anthems were originally
composed for Cannons and reworked later for the Chapel Royal.
So what he have here are four anthems as they were performed
in the Chapel Royal - although there is some doubt whether HWV
251d was ever really performed. In addition two movements from
the very first version of 'As pants the hart' are recorded.
God arise' is in four sections and written - or rather adapted
- for a national service of Thanksgiving. This had become a
tradition, in particular under William III, when services of
Thanksgiving were often held to mark the success of military
campaigns. By the time of George I's reign they were held on
the occasion of the arrival of members of the royal family from
trips to their native Hanover. This anthem starts with a chorus,
in which the text "Let God arise, and let his enemies be
scattered" is vividly depicted by descending figures through
all the voices. It is performed well, but it would have been
better if the articulation of the choir had been a little sharper
and the trebles had sung with a little more power. Here it is
all a shade harmless. The next section is a duet, but the alto
and bass don't sing together: first the bass sings the first
half of the 'duet', then the alto takes over for the second
half. Andrew Ashwin is rather weak, in particular at the top
of his range, whereas James Bowman gives a very fine account.
Next follows a real duet of alto and bass, and here the balance
between Bowman and Maciek O'Shea is less than ideal. The bass
has a little tremolo in his voice, which makes his singing not
very pleasant. The anthem is closed by a chorus on the words
"Blessed be God. Alleluja."
will magnify thee' consists of six sections, the first and last
of which are adapted from the Cannons version of the same anthem,
whereas the other four movements are reworkings of movements
from three other anthems written for Cannons. It begins with
a magnificent solo for alto with an obbligato part for the oboe,
brilliantly performed here by James Bowman and Katharina Spreckelsen.
It is followed by a duet of alto and bass, in which the voices
of Maciek O'Shea and Michael McGuire fail to blend very well.
Next is a chorus with vocal quartet: the singing is good but
the balance between the two groups much less so. There are two
further duets for alto and bass, and here again the voices of
Bowman and O'Shea are ill-matched. Rather well-done is the alto
solo "Righteousness and equity are the habitation of thy
seat" by Michael McGuire.
pants the hart' is based on a text from John Church's 'Divine
Harmony' of 1712, which contains the lyrics of the anthems that
were part of the Chapel's repertoire at the time. The first
section is set for a vocal sextet and chorus. Here the top part
is sung by two trebles, perhaps to make sure that it can be
heard. This is a wise decision as the trebles do not have very
strong and penetrating voices - certainly not in comparison
with the trebles in some other British all-male choirs. A very
nice section in this anthem is the duet for the two altos with
obbligato cello. James Bowman and Michael McGuire have very
different voices, but they blend well, and the cello part is
beautifully played by Joseph Crouch.
'O sing unto the Lord' Bowman is in fine form in the opening
section, whereas McGuire gives a nice performance of the solo
"Sing unto the Lord, and praise his name". The anthem
contains an 'accompagnetto' for bass, which is followed by a
bass aria. They are given to two different singers - a most
strange decision. Andrew Ashwin sings the 'accompagnetto', and
I would have liked him to have sung the aria as well, because
he is by far the best of the two basses.
disc ends with two sections from the first version of 'As pants
the hart'. This is delightful music, which I can't remember
having heard before. First comes the second section, "Tears
are my daily food: while thus they say, where is now thy God?"
It is a solo for alto with basso continuo. James Bowman gives
a deeply moving account of this most expressive aria. It is
followed by an equally expressive duet for soprano and alto:
"Why so full of grief, O my soul, why so disquieted within
me?" James Bowman very sensitively adapts his singing to
the much softer voice of treble Jacob Ferguson-Lobo, who sings
well, but is a little short on expression.
have mixed feelings about this disc. It brings music which is
seldom performed, and that makes it recommendable and Handel's
music is splendid. The choir sings better than on previous discs
and that is all to the good. Bowman is great, as always. But the
blending and balance between the voices - in particular the adult
singers - is problematic. And the choruses sometimes lack clarity,
which isn't only due to the acoustical circumstances. Despite
the shortcomings there is enough to enjoy and the music is too
good to be missed.
Johan van Veen
see also Reviews
by Jonathan Woolf and Max