There has been a lot of hubris about this "recently
discovered" work by Händel, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo (HWV deest;
deest being Latin for missing, since this work is not included in the
standard catalogue of Händel's works). The manuscript of this work,
which was in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in London, was
part of a larger manuscript containing arias from Händel's operas.
Long known, yet considered to be "dubious", no one had examined the
work for a very long time, even though the manuscript of the Gloria
bore the name "Händel" underlined twice by a copyist. Professor
Hans Joachim Marx, of Hamburg, Germany, shortly after visiting the library
in 2000, claimed that Händel indeed wrote the Gloria, and his authentication
has been unanimously accepted by Händel scholars and musicologists.
"The music is very virtuosic, very expressive and full of effects,"
Professor Marx said. "I realised its significance immediately."
This is a small-scale work. It was composed for soprano,
2-part violin, and basso continuo, and lasts just over 16 minutes in
this recording. (Some initial press reports claimed it was a choral
work, but this is not the case.) It seems to have been composed in Händel's
early years, either during his last years in Hamburg or his first few
years in Italy, 1706 - 1708. This has been determined by melodic and
stylistic similarities with other works of the period.
The work is a musically demanding one for the soprano
soloist. It is suggested that it might have been written for a castrato,
or a very capable soprano. Michael Talbot, Professor of Music at the
University of Liverpool, said, "The quality of the work is so high that
it will surely join the ranks of Händel's most loved music. It
has great melodic distinction. The vocal lines are complex and flowing,
yet never degenerate to empty virtuosity. It is a wonderful piece. It's
going to make a big splash."
Händel scholar Donald Burrows said: "This is a
very exciting piece. There's no doubt of its authenticity, particularly
because the musical content includes various melodies and fragments
we also know from other contexts of Händel's music."
John Eliot Gardiner was unfortunate to not be able
to release the world premiere recording of the Handel Gloria. This was
done by Bis in July, with a fine performance by Emma Kirkby as soprano
[review]. Given the
media attention to this work, there is no way I could avoid comparing
the two. Oddly enough, there is little musical difference between the
two performances. The tempi are almost exactly the same - the timings
are within a few seconds for each movement. The main difference is in
the voices of Emma Kirkby and Gillian Keith. Kirkby clearly has this
work down pat - she will be the reference singer for this work for many
years. Keith just doesn’t have the tone and expressiveness that Kirkby
has. She has the agility, especially in the first movement, the Gloria
in excelsis Deo. The soprano has a demanding score, and there is
a wonderful interplay with a solo violin weaving in and out of her melody.
This is the kind of music that might make some hum along, and others
tap their feet - this is music that expresses great joy and happiness.
But Gillian Keith does not have the same power in her voice as Kirkby
The centrepiece of the work is the Qui tollis…,
the longest movement of the piece. This version is about 20 seconds
longer than the Kirkby recording. But, again, Emma shines much more
than Gillian Keith, even though Keith is truly in her element here.
(Note: one can wonder why Gillian Keith, the soloist
for this piece, is not mentioned on the CD cover. Her name is mentioned
on the back, and in the notes, naturally, but, since the main selling
point of this disc is the Handel Gloria, her absence on the cover stands
The remainder of this recording is indeed excellent
- an exuberant Gloria by Vivaldi, and a brilliant Dixit Dominus by Handel,
with some excellent choral work. If you are looking for the Handel Gloria
alone, go for the Bis recording. But this disc has the advantage of
offering much more music - almost a half-hour more - with the Vivaldi
Gloria. Gillian Keith is not a bad singer, quite the contrary. This
recording is excellent, and should delight most listeners.