Handel’s anthems for the coronation of George
II in 1727 are tried and true standards of the choral repertoire.
They are also fiendishly difficult to sing well. When performed
at modern pitch, they lie extremely high, especially for the tenors
and sopranos, and even when sung at A=415hz, they have a fair
share of pitfalls. Jeremy Summerly and his forces have assembled
one of the more consistently fine performances of these challenging
works that I have heard in some time, and have thrown in a much
lesser known solo motet as a delightful and unexpected bonus.
Although it probably was not the first anthem
performed in the actual service, the boisterous Zadok the Priest,
with its deceptively placid opening ritornello is often programmed
first in modern presentations. The Tallis Chamber choir is resplendent
in the powerful opening chorus, amassing a marvelous wall of sound.
My only minor quibble is that the women do not match up to their
male colleagues in the execution of the melismatic Alleluia,
Amen, their sound being a little pushed and ragged around
Both The King Shall Rejoice and Let
Thy Hand be strengthened receive perfectly elegant and passionate
renditions. Kudos go to Maestro Summerly and his chorus for achieving
an excellent pace and a blended, lovely choral sound. The orchestra
is also of the first water, particularly the glorious trumpeters.
My Heart is inditing, with its rather
sexist and cornball text opens with a quartet of soloists that
is nearly done in by some less than attractive singing by countertenor
David Bates. His weak and uncontrolled tone is no match for his
bass counterpart, and he seems unable to shift from his chest
to head registers with any ease at all. It is completely beyond
me why conductors insist on using such male altos over fine female
singers. Unless one has the likes of a Ryland Angel or a Scot
Cameron at one’s disposal, then it is simply best to go against
authenticity and use a woman. Female choristers are used here,
so why not soloists as well? Such a decision on the part of the
conductor is a major blight on this otherwise exemplary disc.
The splendid motet Sileti Venti, written
some three years after the coronation pieces is clearly designed
for a professionally trained, operatic voice. Rebecca Ryan would
have pleased Mr. Handel immensely. Hers is a lovely lyric soprano
with ample flexibility and evenness throughout her range. An intelligent
and sensitive singer, she is careful to portray the mood of the
text without making us aware that she is interpreting. Her singing
of this rarely heard work is worth the price of the disc.
Jeremy Summerly provides an excellent and concise
program note, and the sound quality of the recording is first
rate. A winner, again, for Naxos. Highly recommended.