The pit which is there to be plumbed when it comes to exploring
music for Royal occasions is, it seems, as bottomless as it is
popular. But how bottomless, really? And why so popular?
Thanks to radio
stations such as Classic FM, we now known practically every
nuance of Handel’s Coronation Anthem Zadok the Priest but
we rarely, if ever, hear one of the other three which make
up this quite stunning set of choral works.
And we simply
never explore the wealth of music commissioned, or even written,
by the Royals over the centuries. Although disputed by scholars,
there are several works alleged to have been written by Henry
VIII, for instance. Or there is the wealth of Tudor or Jacobean
music written for the church. Come to that, there are works
commissioned by living members of today’s Royal family by
composers such as Britten or Tippett which rarely get airtime.
That’s why this
disc is inherently disappointing. There’s much to commend
it but it’s a compilation of old favourites, many with extremely
tenuous links with the Royals. Why, for instance, do we need
another recording of the final Toccata from Widor’s
Fifth Organ Symphony, even if adequately played by Christian
von Blohn? And why do the sleeve-notes not tell us where it
is played and add that it was played at Princess Anne’s wedding
to Lt Mark Phillips in 1973? It first burst onto the British
consciousness when played at Princess Alexandra’s wedding
well nigh a decade earlier.
The disc is a
hotch-potch of recordings, some from as far back as 1969.
from Westminster Abbey Choir, under Martin Neary, are woolly,
and set in a cavernous acoustic which does little to help
the detail. Thus Handel’s Zadok the Priest – perfectly
accurate, though unexciting – and Parry’s I was glad are,
largely, unmemorable, though it is good to hear the rather
rarely performed Purcell for once.
On the other hand,
Parry’s I was glad, in a performance by the Choir of
Trinity College, Cambridge, under Richard Marlow, is well-paced
and possesses clarity and precision.
Some of the links
are somewhat tenuous. Why such a slow and ponderous orchestral
version of Bach’s Jesu joy of man’s desiring, played
by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy? Ah yes ... it
was played by the organist of Westminster Abbey to the congregation
awaiting the arrival of Princess Elizabeth for her wedding.
Casta diva from Norma is there because Queen
Victoria liked opera.
Imperial and Holst’s I vow to thee, my country,
extracted from Jupiter from The Planets, are
both played by the Band of the Life Guards – not a pleasant
The only high
points in this bag of sweets come with Victorian connections:
Mendelssohn’s Song without words, Op. 85 No. 6 in a
stunning performance by pianist Peter Nagy. Mendelssohn later
arranged it for piano duet so that Victoria and Albert could
perform it together. There’s also the light-hearted confection
by Johann Strauss I, Homage to Queen Victoria of Great
Britain, in a cheeky interpretation by the London Symphony
Orchestra under John Georgiadis.