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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Te Deum in D major ĎDettingení HWV 283 (1743) [38:04]
Organ Concerto No. 14 in A major HWV 296a (1739?) [17:15]
Zadok the Priest HWV 258 (1727) [5:11]
Neal Davies (bass) (Te Deum)
Richard Marlow (organ) (Concerto)
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge
Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Layton
rec. 29 June-1 July 2007, Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge
HYPERION CDA67678 [60:33]
Experience Classicsonline

The genesis for the Dettingen Te Deum is well known. To celebrate the British victory over the French in the summer of 1743 at the Battle of Dettingen, Handel composed the celebratory choral work in his most festive style. This occasion would mark the last time a British monarch, George II, personally led an army and fought in battle. As David Vickers writes in his extensive notes in the accompanying booklet, this turned out to be a miscalculation on Handelís part. Britain was not officially at war with France and the outcome was not the great victory the composer had imagined. The Te Deum was finally premiered five months after the battle at the Chapel Royal on Sunday, 27 November 1743. This large-scale music was totally unlike anything the tiny chapel had heretofore experienced and, as Vickersí notes say, must have been "an odd experience for all participants".

Today the Te Deum, although typically Handelian, is not considered to be from the composerís top-drawer. I find this hard to fathom, because the work contains many beautiful, quiet numbers as well as spectacular, celebratory ones with trumpets and drums. In any case, the performance under review could change this attitude. Layton and his superb choir and orchestra, perform the work with all the commitment and excitement imaginable. The big choruses are indeed thrilling and the quieter sections are particularly beautiful. For example, "We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge," (track 8) is sung with great depth of feeling, and Neal Davies, wonderful in all his solos, is especially touching in "Vouchsafe. O Lord, to keep us this day without sin" (Track 15). The other vocal solos come from members of the choir and all are excellent. Special mention should be made of the Academy of Ancient Musicís contribution, too. While the orchestra as a whole leaves nothing to be desired, David Blackadderís trumpet solos (Tracks 1, 6, 14, 16) are especially noteworthy with his gleaming tone and superb technique. The Te Deum has not had as many recordings as one might expect, but an earlier one with the Choir of Westminster under Simon Preston and the English Concert with Trevor Pinnock on DG Archiv should not be forgotten. It may not be as exuberant as this new one, but it puts the work across well and also contains the Dettingen Anthem that Handel wrote for the occasion.

This new disc, though, is better value in that it contains two other major works by Handel. The first is a concerto that may be more familiar to listeners in its alternate guise as the Concerto Grosso No. 11 from the Op. 6 set. The organ version presented here was actually composed first, although the exact date of the composition is not indicated on the composerís manuscript. Richard Marlow and the Academy perform the work well, although one could imagine a livelier account. The disc is rounded off with a terrific performance of one of the favorite choral works by Handel, the coronation anthem Zadok the Priest. This piece should be familiar to many and to British audiences, in particular, because it is has been performed at every coronation since the occasion for which it was composed: the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline in 1727. It is only one of four such anthems, but the most popular. There are recordings of all four. One of the best of these is by Neville Marriner and the Academy and Chorus of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Philips. Nonetheless, Zadok the Priest can stand by itself and it completes a very satisfying program on the current disc.

Leslie Wright


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