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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Music for the Chapel Royal
Let God arise, HWV 256b [12:32]
I will magnify thee, HWV 250b [18:11]
As Pants the hart, HWV 251d [11:54]
O Sing unto the Lord, HWV 249a [11:19]
Two movements from As Pants the hart, HWV 251a [6:59]
Choir of the Chapel Royal
Musicians Extra-ordinary/Andrew Gant
rec. Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, London, 18–20 July 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557935 [60:55] 

 


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 of microphones.

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.

Max Kenworthy

 

 


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