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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Music for the Chapel Royal
Let God Arise HWV256b (1725-26) [12:32]
I will magnify thee HWV250b (1723-24) [18:11]
As pants the hart HWV251d (1720-22) [11:54]
O Sing unto the Lord HWV249a (1713-14) [11:19]
Two movements from As pants the hart HWV251a (1712-13) [6:59]
Choir of the Chapel Royal
Musicians Extra-ordinary/Andrew Gant
rec. Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, London, July 2005
NAXOS 8.557935 [60:55]


Handel began writing for the Chapel Royal – essentially both a collection of people and a building – towards the end of 1712. The first anthem written was As pants the hart and it’s unique amongst the pieces in this disc in not having been composed for a ceremonial event – rather it was for use in ordinary services. In 1717 he retuned to the anthem and added an orchestra.  Seven years later he raided his own larder yet again and produced another version HMV251d, and then produced yet another, the fourth and final version, confusingly numbered HMV251c. On this disc we have the third, orchestral “-d” version and also two movements from the “-a.”

It’s a compact twelve-minute setting with a sextet, an alto solo, a duet for two altos, bass recitative and two choruses. As with the remainder of the programme it would be hard to argue that this is top-drawer Handel but one hears nevertheless how adept and how adaptable Handel was in his commissions. Especially noteworthy here is the balance of the sextet and the alto/quartet balance in the second movement Tears are my daily food. This applies equally to the organ. One notes as well how well the two altos Michael McGuire and – yes, he’s now a Gentleman-in-Ordinary – James Bowman blend their tones in their fine duet Why so full of grief.

I will magnify thee and Let God arise began life as anthems for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons. After mutational work the former anthem has its first and last movements essentially intact though re-written. The middle four movements derive from three other separate Cannons anthems, showing this inventive self-borrowing at its most vividly intense. Once more we find buoyant rhythms and a fine orchestral and choral balance. Let God arise has only four movements – two choruses and two duets for bass and alto. We hear from two basses – Maciek O’Shea who sings with directness but whose voice is lighter than Andrew Ashwin; to trade off Ashwin is a touch weak at the top of his range. Lest one should overlook the orchestral contribution - a mistake as the band plays with real verve and sensitivity – one can listen in particular to the splendid oboe playing in the opening movement of the anthem O Sing unto the Lord where Bowman takes the first solo.

We don’t find out who comprise the Musicians Extra-ordinary but it would be nice to know. They sound like an expert group of specialists. They and the chorus, so adeptly directed by Andrew Gant are especially felicitous. None of the soloists are outstanding but they all acquit themselves well. There are first class and unusually lengthy notes by Gant – necessary for elucidating the sometimes tortuous compositional history of the anthems. And the authentic setting of the Chapel Royal is a final fillip.

Jonathan Woolf 

see also Review by Max Kenworthy



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