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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Dixit Dominus
Zadok the Priest

Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109)
Coronation Anthem No.1 ‘Zadok the Priest’
Felicity Palmer, Margaret Marshall soprano
Charles Brett, John Angelo Messana, counter-tenor
Richard Morton, Alistair Thompson, tenor
David Wilson-Johnson, bass
Nicholas Kraemer, harpsichord
Malcolm Hicks, organ
Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra /Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Recorded in October 1976 and January 1977 at Henry Wood Hall, London, England DDD
APEX 0927 48683 2 [42:03]


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Handel composed Dixit Dominus during the early stages of his stay in Rome, in 1707. It is the most brilliant and famous of the three Vesper psalms (the others being Laudate pueri Dominum and Nisi Dominus), and in many ways echoes the style of harmonic interplay favoured by Vivaldi and Corelli. The performance is a triumph and the recording quality outstanding, given that it is now a quarter of a century old.

Dixit Dominus is a large scale work, consisting of eight movements arranged for five solo voices, five part chorus and orchestra. It opens wonderfully with an incisive introduction played by strings before solo voices and choir call and answer. One is immediately struck by the clarity of the vocal parts and the exhilarating instrumental harmonies. The second movement, Virgam virtuitis tuae is an aria arranged for counter-tenor and cello continuo. Here I found Charles Brett a little forced and uncomfortable in the upper registries. Following this is an absolute jewel of a section, Tecum principium in die virtutis, where dramatic violin flourishes and serene singing from Felicity Palmer make a tremendous impression. Gardiner is renowned as a choir master, and the vocal forces do not disappoint in the central choral sections, Juravit Dominus and Tu es sacerdos in aeternam . However, although enjoyable, I found the tempo rather rushed.

The two sopranos are tremendous in the highly demanding Dominus a dextris tuis, and the impact of these voices interacting with the tenors, bass and choir is almost terrifying in its intensity, perfectly suiting the words ("he shall fill the places with dead bodies and smite in sunder the heads over diverse countries"). The following duet (with chorus) is perhaps the most beautiful of all (Da torrente in via bibet) and this particular performance justifiably renowned, Palmer and Marshall serene and expressive throughout. The final chorus, Gloria Patri et Filio, is tightly controlled but still very convincing. Overall, this performance of the Dixit Dominus easily maintains its status as one of the very best recordings.

Handel composed Zadok the Priest precisely twenty years after Dixit Dominus for the coronation of George II in Westminster Abbey, London. In fact Zadok was just one of four anthems written in 1727, but, although the shortest, it is the most majestic (and has since been played at every coronation since). The tension of the famous opening crescendo is superbly maintained and the explosive choral entry highly dramatic, and while the words may seem rather absurd today ("May the King live forever! Amen, Amen, Allelujah, Allelujah, Amen!), the message is driven home ecstatically.

These brilliant pieces are perfectly suited to John Eliot Gardiner’s incisive style of conducting, and they are a very welcome addition to the Apex super budget label. Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra were at an absolute peak during these formative years and this recording remains one of the great early music releases.

Peter Bright



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