> Coronation Anthems [PL]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Coronation Anthems
William BOYCE (1711-1779)
- sung at the coronation of King George III in 1761
The King shall rejoice [7.44]
Come, Holy Ghost [2.37]
Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem [3.19]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
- sung at the coronation of King George II in 1727
The King shall rejoice [10.57]
Zadok the priest [5.19]
William CROFT (1678-1727)
- sung at the coronation of King George I in 1714
The Lord is a sun and a shield [8.35]
Jeremiah CLARKE (1674-1707)
- sung at the coronation of Queen Anne in 1702
Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem [2.49]
John BLOW (1649-1708)
- sung at the coronation of William and Mary in 1689
Let my prayer come up [1.09]
The Lord God is a sun and a shield [7.56]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
- sung at the coronation of King James II in 1685
I was glad [5.00]
My heart is inditing [15.31]
The Choir of New College, Oxford, and the Academy of Ancient Music, cond. Edward Higginbottom
recorded 11/12 July 2000 & 25/26 June 2001 in the Temple Church, London DDD
DECCA 470 226-2[71.13]

This superb disc gathers together a number of anthems sung at the coronation of British Kings and Queens between 1685 and 1761: a time when Britain was undoubtedly a land with music! It’s a disc which will make the British proud to be British, rejoice in their heritage, and warm the heart of even the most ardent republican: everything about it is positively splendid!

According to the accompanying CD booklet, the Bodleian Library in Oxford possesses not only the autograph scores of Boyce’s music for the coronation of George III, but also the actual parts (vocal and instrumental) used on that great occasion. In the same note, Edward Higginbottom suggests – though he doesn’t actually admit – that this discovery triggered the wonderful collection of ceremonial music we have here. All I can say is that Boyce’s noble music raises the curtain on this enterprise in a most stirring fashion: and the performers sound inspired – not at all surprisingly, you might say, for they used facsimiles of those very same scores and parts for the recording sessions, and thereby established an almost tangible link with the historic event which prompted it.

Some of the texts crop up twice, which enable us to make some fascinating comparisons: we have The King shall rejoice in settings by both Boyce and Handel, for example, and Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem from Jeremiah Clarke as well as Boyce, and again (albeit truncated) in the closing section of Purcell’s My heart is inditing. These comparisons reveal Boyce (no surprise to some, I know…) to be a true master, utterly unworthy of neglect. The middle section of The King shall rejoice, for example, is (typically…) attentive to every detail and affection in the text, and builds majestically, with glorious counterpoint and orchestral colour: this is in no way inferior even to Handel’s noble setting. Judged by these standards, however, Clarke’s Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem is disappointingly restrained, even perfunctory: its best ideas are almost certainly lifted (with precious little disguise) from Purcell’s symphony anthem of the same name, and it comes a poor second after the buoyant rhythms and soul-stirring sonorities adopted by Boyce and Purcell.

Blow’s music sits uncomfortably in this exalted company too: it’s agreeable and inoffensive, but old-fashioned. However, that’s partly because the coronation of William and Mary (Queen Anne’s too) seems to have been a good deal less lavish than those for Kings George and James, with elaborate music obviously deemed to be inappropriate.

You may have noticed that the music comes in reverse chronological idea: I’m not sure why this sequence is adopted, but it works well, and shows us (in case we needed reminding) what an inspired setter of words Purcell was, and how diverse and utterly original his music is. How expressively ornate his lines; how dazzling and irresistibly dissonant his counterpoint! And what a splendid sense of occasion he conveys with such expansive structures!

The booklet lists every member of the Academy of Ancient Music used on this recording, revealing a larger-than-average ensemble of 21 violins, 5 violas, 8 cellos, 3 double basses, 4 oboes, 3 bassoons, 3 trumpets and timpani. They sound wonderful in this ambient but admirably detailed recording. And the 39-strong choir carries well across them, with words crystal clear in all but the most ornate choruses: my only regret (as so often in this kind of repertoire) is the sizzling of sibilants which (almost inevitably…) results from the complex counterpoint we tend to find in the most sophisticated settings.

As you’d expect, the booklet also includes all the texts – in a mock-baroque goldleaf font which (I’m afraid) isn’t at all easy to read – but it omits to give any sources (e.g. biblical references) or authors: a pity!

This really is a wonderful disc – lots of truly glorious music, intelligently assembled, superbly performed, and nicely packaged. What more could one want?

Peter J Lawson


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