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An English Coronation 1902-1953
Simon Russell Beale (speaker); Rowan Pierce (soprano)
Matthew Martin (organ)
Gabrieli Consort; Gabrieli Roar; Gabrieli Players; Chetham’s Symphonic Brass Ensemble/Paul McCreesh
rec. 2018, Ely Cathedral, Royal Masonic School Chapel, Rickmansworth; Church of St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London.
Texts included

On the Hyperion website, which is marketing this Signum Classics release, we read that this is “among the more crazily ambitious recording projects of recent times—and one which clearly touched the hearts of its many hundreds of performers”.

In many ways, there is little more to add. There is something gloriously eccentric about a conductor and a vocal and instrumental ensemble once primarily associated with refined and intimate performances of early music, gathering together several hundred extra singers and instrumentalists, not to mention a cathedral full of a singing congregation, and trying to recreate four coronations as one. The four coronations concerned are those of 1902 (Edward VII), 1911 (George V), 1937 (George VI) and 1953 (Elizabeth II) and for which some of the most iconic British music of the past century was conceived. From each of these four coronations, some of the most spectacular of British music has been written and is included here as if in a single service, modelled on the order of Service for the 1937 event. From the 1902 coronation we have Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No.1 and Parry’s I was Glad with its daunting choral shouts of “Vivat”, here given as the more all-purpose “Vivat Regina decora! Vivat Rex nobilis!”, from the 1911 coronation, Stanford’s great Gloria, from the 1937 coronation Walton’s Crown Imperial and from the 1953 coronation Walton’s spectacular Coronation Te Deum and Vaughan Williams’ majestic arrangement of the Old Hundredth. Much of the wonder of this pair of discs is not so much in the programming itself as in the unbounded enthusiasm of the huge body of performers which conveys itself in performances of often spine-tingling magnificence.

Those performers include, beyond the Gabrieli Consort and Players, the Gabrieli Roar, the youth wing of the Gabrielis comprising young singers pulled in from some 11 separate choral groups from up and down the country. That youth element is also present in the shape of the Chetham’s Symphonic Brass Ensemble, expanded for this recording to include no less than 14 fanfare trumpets. The wind instruments themselves are detailed in the booklet to reveal a deliberate intention to recreate the sound of anearly-20th century British orchestra, and this is further expanded in the booklet to explain the historical context of these instruments and their development in England during the period bounded by these four coronations. The picture drawn up is of the coronation being not just the major ceremonial and administrative event in British society, but an event which occasions not just new music, but new musical ideas and performance practices. Seen in this light, this recording is not quite so eccentric as it may at first appear; it does, in fact, serve a very important historical function.

The hugely informative, lavishly illustrated and beautifully presented 110-page booklet, complete with many historic photographs and some personal recollections from those who attended the most recent coronations (including, I’m thrilled to see, my old and very special friend Jim Peschek who had been a chorister at the 1937 event), is the ideal complement to what is on the discs. It explains the thinking behind the whole venture and how, in trying to recreate four coronations as a single one, the performance styles have been carefully thought through to mix historical authenticity with modern-day practices. The “clipped ecclesiastical spoken style” of 1937 is discarded by Simon Russell Beale, who assumes the role of an Archbishop of Canterbury, in preference for a more contemporary elocution (luckily, though, with all Ts fully intact), Tudor anthems are not sung at the pitches they would have been in the early part of the 20th century, and Zadok the Priest is presented in a “more generic 21st century ‘baroque’ style” (and the choral entry on this recording has an explosive impact which makes this a stand-out performance in any context).

So what we have here cleverly serves three very different purposes, and serves all three with unfailing success. First and foremost, it is a credible musical venture, presenting a wide-ranging programme of choral and orchestral music in spectacular sound and with all the musical authority and excellence we have come to expect from anything associated with Paul McCreesh and the Gabrielis: in addition to Zadok the Priest, I would place these performances of the two movements from Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor, his Old Hundredth, the Elgar Coronation March and Walton’s Coronation Te Deum among the finest currently available on record, while the vigour and enthusiasm of the Gibbons O Clap Your Hands more than compensates for a slight feeling that it’s being sung by massed crowds of trained singers. Secondly, it is a historically valuable survey of how British music, musical instruments and performing styles have evolved over the course of the 20th century. Here are some outstanding players (especially in the brass) who understand what they are being asked to do and do it with real authority. That historic context is supported by some excellent written material in the booklet. And thirdly, it is a marvellous summary of an event which is at the very root of what makes Britain unique. As we live through an age where a focus on contemporary politics tends to brush aside the value of a stable monarchy, this also comes as a timely reminder that, if for nothing else, the British monarchy has had – and continues to have - a profound influence over British music.

Marc Rochester

Previous reviews: John Quinn ~ Simon Thompson

Sir Edward Elgar Coronation March
Herbert Howells The King’s Herald
Martin Luther, harmony by JS Bach Hymn: Rejoice today with one accord
Charles Wood O most merciful
Thomas Tallis Litany
Isaac Watts, Attrib. William Croft Hymn: O God, our help in ages past
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry Chorale Fantasia on O God, our help
Sir Edward Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1
Sir Ernest Bullock Entrance Fanfare
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry I was glad
Sir Ernest Bullock The Presentation, Fanfares and Acclamations
The Administration and Signing of the Oath
Sir Edward Elgar Introit: O hearken Thou
The Collect
Epistle: Peter 2:13-17
Henry Purcell Gradual: Hear my prayer
Gospel: Matthew 22:15
Ralph Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor – Creed
Arr. Ernest Bullock Hymn: Come, Holy Ghost
The Prayer over the Ampulla
George Frideric Handel Zadok the Priest
The Anointing and Blessing

Prayers, Acclamations and Crowning Fanfare (Sir Ernest Bullock)
Sir Walter Parratt Confortare: Be strong and play the man
The King receives the Holy Bible
The Blessing of the King and People
The Exhortation
Anon, attrib. John Redford Rejoice in the Lord alway
William Byrd I will not leave you comfortless
Orlando Gibbons O clap your hands together
Samuel Sebastian Wesley Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace
Sir Ernest Bullock Homage Fanfare and Acclamations
Ralph Vaughan Williams The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune
The Offertory Prayer and Prayer for the Church Militant
The Exhortation, General Confession and Absolution
The Preface
Ralph Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor – Sanctus
The Prayer of Humble Access and Prayer of Consecration
Ralph Vaughan Williams O taste and see
John Merbecke The Lord’s Prayer
The Post-Communion Prayer
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford ‘Coronation’ Gloria in B flat
The Blessing
Orlando Gibbons Threefold Amen
Sir William Walton Coronation Te Deum
David Matthews Recessional and National Anthem
Sir William Walton Coronation March: Crown Imperial  

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