composers of the 17th and 18th centuries wrote music for special
occasions. These works are mostly performed as isolated pieces
divorced from their proper context. That is understandable,
as many of the elements of a certain ceremony can hardly be
reconstructed. Often we just don't know enough about the elements
of a ceremony and the particular compositions which were part
of it. Sometimes we are lucky: people attending ceremonies were
making notes and if they were especially interested in music
these notes can give clues as to which music was performed and
even how. This disc attempts to reconstruct the ceremony of
the coronation of James II in 1685.
reconstruction is mainly based on a book by Francis Sandford,
who attended the Coronation in his capacity as Lancaster Herald.
He gives a detailed account of the preparations and the ceremony,
which was printed in a large number of copies. Unfortunately
for him James' Catholic leanings led to his downfall, and as
nobody wanted to be associated with James, Sandford's book didn't
sell that well. But to us it gives interesting information about
the music performed, even though Sandford's information isn't
always correct and is sometimes rather confusing. There are
also gaps in the information which means that creative solutions
every piece which was performed during the ceremony was composed
specifically for the occasion: like William Child's anthem 'O
Lord, grant the King a long life', which opens the disc. The
next anthem is Purcell's 'I was glad', but here the performer
has two choices: Purcell wrote a verse anthem and also a full
anthem which was formerly attributed to John Blow and only later
believed to be written by Purcell. Robert King, in the programme
notes to his recording of Purcell's sacred music (Hyperion),
thinks the latter version was the one performed during the coronation
ceremony, considering Sandford’s reference to a 'full anthem'.
For several reasons Andrew Gant thinks it is more likely that
the verse anthem was performed. In this respect he states that
Sandford's descriptions are not always reliable and contain
several provable errors.
is no reference as to what music the Litany was sung, but Gant
thinks Tallis's setting is the most likely possibility, so here
a number of verses from that setting are performed. According
to Sandford the hymn was sung to a setting by William Turner,
but no setting by him exists, so this remark is interpreted
as referring to a chant, of which Turner composed several. Henry
Lawes's anthem Zadok the Priest, written for the coronation
of Charles II in 1661, is incomplete: only the bass part of
the instrumental symphony has been preserved, and Andrew Gant
has added instrumental parts of his own.
Turner's anthem 'The King shall rejoice' is a setting written
for the coronation of Queen Anne in 1702. It is used here since
Turner's setting for the coronation of 1685 is lost. Andrew
Gant suggests that the 1702 setting is an arrangement of the
one of 1685. True or not, this is an example of the creativity
which is necessary to realise a reconstruction like this. In
the case of William Child's 'Te Deum' the performer has again
to make a choice from the several settings which have come down
pieces by Blow and Purcell which conclude this disc are among
the best-known works by their respective composers, and they
are specifically mentioned by Sandford. These and Purcell's
verse anthem 'I was glad' have been recorded before, of course,
but most other pieces on this disc are probably first recordings.
Even if some of them were recorded before, their performance
here as part of this reconstruction makes them a welcome addition
to the catalogue.
I find this concept very interesting, illuminating and well
realised, I would have liked to be more positive about the actual
performance, but I'm afraid I can't. One really needs a certain
amount of tolerance to listen to this disc.
Choir of the Chapel Royal is not of Britain’s best. I find the
sound of the trebles unpleasantly sharp, and the voices blend
rather poorly. When the trebles sing with the men – two altos
(with a third in both pieces by Child), two tenors and two basses,
called 'Gentlemen-in-Ordinary' in the booklet – the blending
is even further off. The men also sing the solo parts. The trio
of James Bowman, Andrew Tortise and Maciek O'Shea in Purcell's
'I was glad' is particularly unsatisfying, as Bowman uses hardly
any vibrato, but the two others use it in quantity.
are some intonation problems in the choir's treble section in
Blow's anthem 'God spake sometime in visions'. In William Child's
'Te Deum' the synchronisation of voices and instruments is patchy.
I have also heard Purcell's anthem 'My heart is inditing' done
a lot better than here: the symphony which opens the piece is
rather lacklustre and flat. The instrumental ensemble is very
small in comparison to the number of players involved in the
ceremony in 1685. In his programme notes to the recording of
anthems by Blow (Winchester Cathedral Choir and The Parley of
Instruments - Hyperion) Peter Holman writes that the anthem
'God spake sometime in visions' "was performed with large
forces, including the complete Twenty-four Violins" (the
royal string orchestra). That is quite different from the ensemble
used on this disc, consisting of just two violins, one viola,
cello and organ - with two cornetts and sackbut.
only reason for buying this disc is the opportunity to hear the
music in the context for which it was written. Musically the result
of the reconstruction is rather disappointing.
Johan van Veen