This CD has the
rather glorious distinction of being the first example of church
music by Handel to be recorded in the building and by the choir
for which it was originally intended. Following in the line
of elite alumni of Chapel Royal composers (Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons,
Purcell), Handel’s mark on the choral tradition at the Chapel
Royal was the icing on the cake before it plunged into the relative
depths of Victorian blandness.
This is a perfectly presented disc of very
fine music that has hitherto been long overlooked and criminally
under performed. Here we find perfect choral singing and faultless
orchestral playing all brought together and coordinated superbly
by Andrew Gant. The orchestral playing throughout is very crisp
and articulate, though the buoyancy of it in places rather overshadows
the choir. You can hear this in the opening chorus of Let
God Arise, where the trebles are almost inaudible against
the violins when their lines are doubled. Perhaps this is the
result of a combination of modern instruments and placement
The Gentleman-in-Ordinary - a wonderfully
antiquated term for the modern day Lay Clerk, given to the gentlemen
of the choir who are directly employed by the monarch - are
by no means ordinary. Indeed they are first-class and suitably
un-operatic. Generally the light and clear tones are just right,
although the basses lack a bit of grunt in the lower register.
My only slight gripe, and it is only slight,
is that the trebles don’t quite have enough bite to the sound
and curiously, actually sound a little short of breath in places.
Although it is a perfectly pleasant and polite sound, I wonder
if it could be a little more boisterous, particularly when the
text commands it as in Tell it out among the heathen that
the Lord is King from I will magnify thee.
For me, the apogee of this recording is
the stunning performance of Tears are my daily food; while
thus they say, where is now thy God? from As Pants the
hart, HWV 251a for alto solo. James Bowman, though certainly
beyond his peak, still sounds superb and is a sheer joy to listen
to. This same text appears earlier on the disc in a reworked
version of As Pants the hart, HWV 251d that Handel produced
at a later date.
The rather confusing HWV numbering is very
comprehensively explained in the detailed and interesting sleeve-notes
that have obviously been meticulously researched.