Glorious Majesty - Music for English Kings and Queens – Diamond Jubilee Edition
BRITTEN Jubilate Deo in C major; Gloriana - Symphonic Suite Op. 53a; BYRD O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth; ELGAR Coronation Ode, Op. 44; Imperial March, Op. 32; O hearken Thou, Op. 64; Coronation March, Op. 65; Nursery Suite: The Sad Doll; HANDEL Coronation Anthems Nos. 1-4; Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne HWV74 'Eternal source of light divine'; Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV351; PARRY I was glad; PURCELL Come ye sons of art (Ode for Queen Mary's birthday), Z 323; Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary; Trad arr ELGAR The British National Anthem; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS O Taste and See; The Old Hundredth 'All people that on earth do dwell'; WALTON Crown Imperial; Coronation Te Deum; Orb and Sceptre.
Full Track-List at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 50999 32728521 [3 CDs: 72:12 + 76:44 + 78:28]
We start with the best known of all coronation anthems, Zadok the priest, first heard at that of George II in 1727 and at every coronation since. There’s a wonderful sense of expectation in the long parade of violin semiquavers. It’s steady but sure and a veil is suddenly lifted at 1:23 with mass acclamation. Then follows the bounce of rejoicing with trumpets especially resplendent.
Three more anthems follow. Let thy hand be strengthened is scored only for oboes and strings. The dance in sunny splendour in the introduction with King’s College Cambridge Choir’s articulation sturdily rhythmic, confident and again festive. The central section provides the contrast of solemn prayer before a closing chorus of Alleluias that’s both formal and florid.
With The King shall rejoice we’re back to the full orchestral panoply. I admire the firm choral line and balance amid the profusion of orchestral and choral counterpoint. Again there are telling quieter sections: the consoling colouring of ‘for thy salvation’, the emphases in the quaver runs on ‘blessings’ before the grander blaze of the Alleluia chorus.
My heart is inditing (CD 1 tr. 12) has a semi-chorus start, here two voices per part, to allow full grandeur to the tutti entry at 1:54. Its central, quieter sections have more of a pastoral luxuriance, ever at the service of the text. The King’s ‘pleasure’ is vividly realized in six dotted-quaver/semiquaver clusters.
There can never have been a more emphatic declaration of majesty than this set of anthems and King’s Choir do them proud.
Now step back 130 years or so for Byrd’s O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our Queen - a homage to the first Elizabeth. Compilations can throw up thought-provoking juxtapositions. There are fine pieces, like the Handel, which sit comfortably in the royal music convention. Then there are others, like this Byrd, which break the bounds. It's surprising how suddenly we encounter here music of almost palpable warmth and affection. Listen to the gently rolling contours of its counterpoint and serene Amen.
We go forward 100 years to the last and finest of Purcell's six birthday odes for Queen Mary, Come ye sons of art away. The emphasis in David Munrow's 1975 recording is on refinement. The Overture has a burnished, autumnal majesty after Handel's full sunlight. James Bowman's opening counter-tenor solo to the title words is smooth and stylish but this and the chorus repeat are rather laid-back. I prefer the greater enthusiasm and pace of the 1988 Andrew Parrott recording (Virgin 5615822), 1:45 for this opening against Munrow's 2:09. There are compensations, in particular the counter-tenor solo of Charles Brett in 'Strike the viol': his ornamentation of repeats is varied with telling sensitivity and intelligence.
Nine months after this ode’s performance Queen Mary died and Purcell supplied her funeral music. In the original release of this 2005 recording (review) these pieces were framed by a drum processional and recessional. This makes for an authentic and atmospheric touch which I regret wasn’t included here; there was certainly enough playing space.
We move on just 18 years for another birthday ode, the one Handel wrote for Queen Anne, Eternal source of light divine. While Purcell has two counter-tenors singing about sounding the trumpet and imitating it joyously, Handel has one counter-tenor matched with obbligato trumpet in a series of expansive, glowing melismata. What makes the performance here by Robin Blaze and David Blackadder respectively is its emotive edge: this evocation of sunrise really matters. Otherwise the work is a continuous showcase of virtuosity, a contest in variety of setting the same words in a repeated chorus which incorporates the characteristics of preceding arias. The opening and closing choruses go one better on the Hallelujah Chorus of Messiah in pitting sustained trumpet notes with semiquaver vocal runs, where Messiah mixes quaver and semiquaver runs. King’s Choir aren’t at all flustered by this.
36 years later comes Handel’s Musick for the Royal Fireworks, here from the London Classical Players and Roger Norrington. Listening again to this 1996 recording I was struck by the sheer bounce and sense of festivity of the Ouverture. Norrington finds light and shade between the brass and the strings, the clarity and contrast of the division of the groups of trumpets and drums, horns, and strings, oboes and bassoons. For more, see my review when the recording was last reissued on a single CD.
Elgar’s Coronation Ode for Edward VII (CD 2 tr. 17) traverses similar sentiments to those of the Handel anthems. Indeed it attempts a wider emotional range but is disadvantaged by its more mundane and rather mawkish, albeit accessible, verse by A.C. Benson. That said, the introductory movement is grand and assured in its sonorous brass descents. There’s a surprise in the soft, vocally restrained ending from 8:54 when the theme of ‘Land of hope and glory’ is introduced. Listen out for the stylish crescendo to top A flat from soprano soloist Felicity Lott at 9:14. It’s the quieter movements that are most effective: the pleasing lyricism and visionary close of ‘Daughter of ancient kings’(tr. 19), the invocation to what might be the fairy world and then to music itself in ‘Hark, upon the hallowed air’ (tr.21) and the longing expressed within the spare treatment of ‘Peace, gentle Peace’ (tr. 22). ‘Land of hope and glory’, again the tune but here with different words, secures a rousing finale.
Elgar's Imperial March is not just music of unassailable heroic valour. It has a dreamy, tender second theme of domestic thoughts and feelings and a fully rounded majesty. Sir Adrian Boult is expert at catching both moods. The anthem O hearken thou is fascinating. Melodically it's strangely austere but has the dramatic intensity of Mahler in its projection of pain and supplication. Again breaking the bounds of convention, this is beyond a polite offertory setting for a coronation. Then in the deft ascents at the end there's a glimmer of the hope of salvation. Taut control from Richard Hickox makes for a very moving experience. Sadly this can't be said of Elgar's Coronation March for George V. Here convention has proved stultifying. A dour epic manner and endless sequences don't compensate for a lack of memorable melody or inspiration. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Charles Groves aren't to blame: listen to their ‘The Sad Doll’ from the Nursery Suite next. Here Elgar’s unique gift is sensitively displayed. He tenderly encapsulates the dreamy contentment of childhood with suave violins yet also demonstrates intent observation in the sullen clarinet musing.
If you’re in a fair-sized church choir you’re likely to perform Parry’s I was glad but you won’t do it, as here, with full orchestra and extra brass, nor will you sing the thrilling Vivats. You can just sit back and admire Ledger’s splendid performance. The instrumental introduction is taken very broadly to grand effect but the vocal presentation is kept pressing forward within its steady foundation.
Crown Imperial, Walton’s Coronation March for George VI, has an introduction full of expectation, purpose and momentum, especially in this 1977 account by Boult. There’s a sense of a vast pageant and a wealth of talent arriving. Walton and Boult can also be relaxed in the Elgarian manner but, more importantly the trio tune is warm, noble and seems naturally capable of aggrandizement. The fanfares which close the opening section are gloriously expanded in the coda so it seems a world of limitless opportunity opens before us. The Coronation Te Deum (CD 3 tr. 7) is a more modern take on fervour and exuberance. Unashamedly a display piece of breezy, even brash manner, Louis Frémaux brings to it both energy and precision of contrast. Though falling short of the grandeur, breadth and nobility of Parry’s I was glad yet it still packs a punch. Those soprano top As and even a B flat, and those double choir antiphonal and semi-chorus effects for cries of ‘Holy’ are memorable. Later there are special effects at 2:38 and 7:40 when Walton specifies boys’ voices in the first semi-chorus, here supplied by the Choristers of Worcester Cathedral. There’s a rich vein of noble assurance in the trio tune of Orb and Sceptre, his Coronation March for Elizabeth II. Its introduction is all holiday atmosphere and gaiety. You could even sense an appreciation of slapstick in Boult’s joyfully rhythmic vivacity. This is New Elizabethan life at a faster pace seems a shade less substantial than the world of Crown Imperial.
A total contrast comes in the shape of Vaughan Williams’ O taste and see. What comes across in this Chichester Cathedral Choir performance is the purity of unaccompanied prayer. It’s heard in the vast space of a cathedral which here serves to accentuate the intimacy of witness by a few voices seemingly relaxed in their trust in God. All change again for RVW’s arrangement of All people that on earth do dwell, a mighty public homage. There’s pageantry in those blazing trumpets but solemnity gets the better of King’s Choir’s measured clarity: the sparkle is missing.
Britten’s 1961 Jubilate Deo is as bubbling a setting as you’ll ever hear. King’s Choir’s performance bursts with energy yet also finds moments of reflection. Try the ‘be thankful unto him’ episode. There’s a touch of awe and mystery at ‘world without end’. The obbligato organ accompaniment is irrepressible and James Lancelot makes it sound really cheeky. In the Symphonic Suite from Gloriana Britten conveys in the musical language of the outset of the reign of Elizabeth II the spirit of the age of Elizabeth I. ‘The Tournament’ (tr. 12) is open air music: all energy, careering strings, buoyant brass fanfares. Then comes the ‘Green leaves are we, red rose our golden queen’ - an affectionate hymn of homage. This is borne by warm strings in stately procession - the need to believe in a cause. The March from the ‘Courtly Dances’ (tr. 13) has formality but also splash. The Coranto (0:49) is barn-dance like. The Pavane for brass (2:13) speaks of weighty majesty and serious state decisions. The Morris (4:38) has gypsy abandon in its flute and oboe leaps. The Galliard (5:45) is feathery, out of which emerges the more whimsical and folksy decoration of a solo quartet of all the string instruments. La Volta (7:34) allows all the orchestra to let its hair down. Listen for the trombones’ outrageous glissando at 8:19. Uri Segal’s performance is lively and it’s vividly recorded.
We are also treated to Elgar’s arrangement of the National Anthem. Here the forthright manner of the Cambridge University Musical Society Chorus represents all of us who wish to affirm allegiance. It makes a fitting close to a good spread of familiar and less familiar royal music. A little room might have been found for some madrigals from The triumphs of Oriana honouring Elizabeth I and some of Henry VIII’s own music. Personally I’d also have cut out Elgar’s Coronation March and had the entire Nursery Suite.
It’s right that the major royal music is choral: words force you to reflect on our need for leaders and justifying leadership.
A good spread of familiar and less familiar royal music.
Glorious Majesty: Music for English Kings and Queens
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Coronation Anthems (1727) 1
William BYRD (c. 1540 – 1623)
O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our Queen [2:41] 2
Henry PURCELL (1659 – 1695)
Come ye sons of art away, Z323 (1694) [26:09] 3
Funeral Music for Queen Mary: March, Canzona, Z860 (1692) [4:50] 4; Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, Z58C (1695) [2:33] 5
George Frideric HANDEL
Eternal source of light divine (1713) [25:14] 6
Musick for the Royal Fireworks (1749) [18:02] 7
Edward ELGAR (1857 – 1934)
Coronation Ode, op. 44 (1902) [33:24] 8
Imperial March, op. 32 (1897) [4:24] 9
O hearken thou, op. 64 (1911) [4:08] 10
Coronation March, op. 65 (1911) [10:45] 11
Nursery Suite: The Sad Doll [1:51] 12
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848 – 1918)
I was glad (1902) [6:45] 13
William WALTON (1902 – 1983)
Crown Imperial (1937) [8:31] 14
Coronation Te Deum (1953) [9:19] 15
Orb and Sceptre (1953) [6:47] 16
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
O taste and see (1953) [1:40] 17
Louis BOURGEOIS arr. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
All people that on earth do dwell [4:56] 18
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)
Jubilate Deo [2:27] 19
Gloriana: Symphonic Suite op. 53a: The Tournament; The Courtly Dances (1953) [13:49] 20
Arr. Edward ELGAR
National Anthem (1902) [2:45] 21
1, 2, 5, 6, 18 King’s College Cambridge Choir/Stephen Cleobury 1 Academy of Ancient Music
3 Norma Burrowes (soprano), James Bowman, Charles Brett (countertenors), Robert Lloyd (bass), Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow
4 David Blackadder, Phillip Bainbridge, Susan Addison, Stephen Saunders (flat trumpets)
6 Susan Gritton (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Michael George (bass)
7 London Classical Players/Sir Roger Norrington
8 Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Alfreda Hodgson (contralto), Ricahrd Morton (tenor), Stephen Roberts (bass), 8, 13, 21 Cambridge University Musical Society Chorus, King’s College Cambridge Choir, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Band of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall/Sir Philip Ledger
9, 14, 16 London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
10 London Symphony Chorus, Northern Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
11, 12 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
15 Worcester Cathedral Choristers, CBSO Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux
17 Chichester Cathedral Choir/John Birch
18 The Wallace Collection
19 King’s College Cambridge Choir/Sir Philip Ledger
20 Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Uri Segal
recs. published 1966 17 to 2006 4,5 .
EMI CLASSICS 3 27285 2 [3 CDs: 72:12 + 76:44 + 78:28]