Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Brilliant Records

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759) – Coronation Anthems
Zadok the Priest
My Heart is Inditing
Let Thy Hand be Strengthened
The King Shall Rejoice

Organ Concerto Opus 7 No.1 in B flat major
Rien Voskuilen (organ)
Holland Boys Choir
Dutch Baroque Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks
Recorded 1996
BRILLIANT 99777-24 [58.23]

The performances of Handel’s Coronation Anthems at the coronation of George II in 1727 must have given Handel one of his largest audiences for his work. In an age before mass communications this sort of large-scale performance was one of the few ways to reach great numbers of people. Handel owed the commission to his friendship with the Royal family. George II’s wife, Queen Caroline was a great supporter of Handel’s. He also taught music to some of the Royal princesses. The appointment of Handel thus, probably put a few noses out of joint as the commission could have been expected to go to one of the senior members of the English musical establishment. Regarding the actual texts, Handel seems, as usual, to have had his own ideas. We have conflicting reports about what was performed and when. There is some argument that the performances were less than ideal. But the results are stunning, even if the original performance at the coronation was a little confused.

There are innumerable versions of these works in the catalogue and Sir David Willcocks himself was a pioneer with an early recording with forces from Kings College Cambridge. Here he is conducting the Holland Boys Choir and the Dutch Baroque Orchestra.

‘Zadok the Priest’ is, of course, the most famous of the anthems. Here the opening is disappointing. The rising string figure is almost dominated by the accompanying chords, and the Dutch Baroque Orchestra play the notes in such a detached manner that a sense of line is all but destroyed. There is none of that shimmering build of intensity that this deceptively simple introduction can deliver. When the choir come in they make a fine, very substantial noise; so substantial in fact that it is, at times, ill supported by the strings. The choir’s passage-work is rather wanting, with the runs sounding over-stylised and aspirated; and they are matched by the strings’ rather odd detached way with their passage-work. The other three anthems are less well known, but Willcocks and his Dutch forces give them equal weight. There is no sense here that they are skating over the others having given us the most famous one.

Unfortunately as soon as the choir start singing legato, their diction suffers. This is a shame as the quiet, legato passages in ‘My Heart is Inditing’ have a beauty of tone that is lacking in the more vigorous movements. In all the anthems, there are occasional lapses in pitch and patches of untidiness, particularly in the passage-work, which lead me to think that insufficient recording time was allocated to these pieces. The final anthem, ‘The King Shall Rejoice’, is marred by a sluggish heaviness in the choral part.

The orchestral playing throughout is crisp and stylish. But in all the anthems, the strings frequently play in a detached, staccato manner, so presumably this is what Willcocks wanted. With the choir making such a fine, strong noise, the continuo is often reduced to a distant tinkling. Surely we could have learned from Baroque practice by now; we should expand the continuo to suit the size of forces available.

The disc is completed by a performance of the Organ Concerto Opus 7 no. 1 in B flat major. This was first performed in 1740 during the first performance of ‘L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato’. The Opus 7 set of organ concerti were prepared for publication by J.C. Smith after Handel’s death. As a result, they lack Handel’s amplification of the improvised organ part that he provided for the Opus 4 organ concerti.

These concerti were all intended for performance in theatres, presumably on the chamber organ that Handel used for some of the continuo in his oratorios. On this disk, the Dutch Baroque Orchestra make a good strong sound which is well balanced by Rien Voskuilen’s substantial (unnamed) organ. The results are convincing as a performance but almost certainly do not approximate to anything like the scale of Handel’s own performances. In this work, the orchestra play in a far more legato manner, altogether lacking the over-stylised playing from the anthems.

If you heard these performances at a live concert you would not be overly disappointed. Whilst they are no match for Kings College Choir, the Holland Boys Choir performs more than respectably. But on disc they have far too many competitors for this to be of significant interest.

Robert Hugill


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