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The Coronation of George II The King’s Consort/ The Choir of the King’s Consort/Robert King
rec. live, 17 January 2018, La Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles
English & French texts included (booklet); English & French subtitles
Picture Format: DVD9 PAL 16:9
Sound Format Dolby Digital 2.0/5.1 CHÂTEAU DE VERSAILLES CVS005 DVD [98 mins]
Back in 2001 Hyperion released a wonderful pair of CDs on which Robert King and The King’s Consort offered a reconstruction of the musical aspects of the Coronation of King George II on 4 October 1727. I bought the set when it came out and found it not only fascinating but also very enjoyable. I see that John Leeman, who reviewed it at the time for MusicWeb International, was no less impressed. Here, now, is the same music performed live some seventeen years later in the opulently majestic surroundings of the Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles.
With the help of Robert King’s booklet note – a condensed version of his comprehensive essay for Hyperion – let me sketch in the background. George II was proclaimed King of England on the death of his father, George I in June 1727. The coronation was set for 4 October in the traditional venue of Westminster Abbey. As Robert King explains, usually it would have been the task of the Organist of the Chapel Royal to organise the musical side of the ceremony, including composing and/or commissioning any new music. However, the incumbent, William Croft died in August. In any case, it seems that George II had his own ideas about the music and it was announced in early September that by command of the new king, Handel was to compose “the Anthem at the Coronation”. In fact, Handel made a big statement, as we know, and composed no fewer than four anthems, one of which, Zadok the Priest has retained its place in the Order of Service for every subsequent Coronation.
One question that collectors are bound to ask is: should I buy this DVD if I already have the Hyperion CDs? My firm advice is that you should. The Hyperion discs are not superseded – for one thing, the performances are just as fine on both media – but being able to see the performance undoubtedly adds an extra dimension. You can experience, for example, the intelligent use that is made of La Chapelle Royale, especially when fanfares are sounded. Also, the film includes a number of excellent shots of the interior of the Chapel, including its sumptuous ceiling. Finally, at the beginning and end of the service there are drum processions. On the CDs these each last for about 1:30 and, to be honest, it’s not desperately interesting to hear a contingent of drums and nothing else for that length of time. If, however, you can see the drummers making their way slowly up the aisle – and back down it at the end – that’s a very different matter. One other difference between the two issues is that Robert King has authored a very useful booklet note to accompany this DVD but his notes accompanying the Hyperion CDs are infinitely more detailed.
Let me describe what you can see and hear on this DVD. I think it’s worth outlining what happens because it has been so carefully choreographed. At the very start we hear a single tolling bell. Then a trumpet fanfare sounds within the nave space, the great doors at the rear of the Chapel swing open and five drummers, playing military drums, slowly process in. As they reach the stage in front of the high altar – where the orchestra is already assembled – there to meet them are the six trumpeters. We hear three shouts of ‘Vivat!’ – at the service these would have been shouted by the Scholars of Westminster School. Another fanfare sounds and then the choir, standing at the rear of the Chapel sings William Child’s a cappella anthem O Lord, grant the king a long life. After this, Robert King leads the orchestra in a stirring and sprightly rendition of Handel’s Grand instrumental Procession. This music may well be familiar to Handelians since it was later used as the Overture to The Occasional Oratorio. During the playing of this piece the choir processes in stately fashion up the aisle and once they’re in place they sing Purcell’s I was glad when they said unto me.
Then bass Richard Savage steps forward to speak the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who presents the new king. That’s followed by the first of Handel’s four new anthems, Let thy hand be strengthened in which both the singing and playing is crisp and lively. The Litany, in Thomas Tallis’s setting, is sung by the male voices of the King’s Consort and for this the cantor moves to face them, standing about halfway down the aisle – another good use of space.
For the Anointing of the King John Farmer’s hymn, Come Holy Ghost, with its sturdy tune, is sung by all the performers, accompanied to excellent effect by Stephen Farr perched high up above them at the organ of the Chapel. Then Zadok the Priest is heard. King and his orchestra make the most of the famous opening, with its crescendo, to launch a splendid and vibrant performance of the anthem. This is followed by applause signalling, I imagine, the interval of the concert.
There follows the Investiture, during which John Blow’s anthem, Behold, O God our Defender is performed, followed by another fanfare and Handel’s The King shall rejoice. Gibbons’ Te Deum, with its simple organ accompaniment may seem a bit low key after so much Handelian rejoicing but its inclusion reminds us that not all tradition was thrown out for this coronation. Gibbons’ setting is very well sung and there are some fine solo contributions from members of the choir.
The next significant music is John Blow’s God spake sometime in visions as part of the Homage section of the service. Handel’s last anthem, My heart is inditing is reserved for the Coronation of Queen Caroline. The there’s one last fanfare before the drummers, followed by the trumpeters, process down the Chapel nave and out of the rear door while a joyful peal of bells is sounded.
By any standards this is a pretty spectacular show. The performing standards are impressively high throughout and the way in which the building of La Chapelle Royale is
used is both imaginative and impressive. The music is splendid – and varied – and its presentation here represents the fruit of significant scholarly research by Robert King. Throughout the programme he conducts with great engagement, obtaining highly committed playing and singing from the assembled musicians.
The camerawork is excellent, as is the picture quality. I used the 2.0 stereo sound option and enjoyed the clear, crisp sound and the way the natural resonance of the Chapel has been used. The booklet, which is in English and French, is very good.
This a splendid example of how to present HIP in an imaginative and highly skilled fashion.
Contents William CHILD (1606-1697)O Lord, grant the king a long life Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)A Grand instrumental Procession Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)I was glad when they said unto me Georg Friedrich HANDELLet thy hand be strengthened Thomas TALLIS (c 1505-1585) Litany. O God, the Father of Heaven John FARMER (fl 1591-1601)Come Holy Ghost Georg Friedrich HANDELZadok the Priest John BLOW (1649-1708)Behold, O God our Defender Georg Friedrich HANDELThe King shall rejoice Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)Te Deum John BLOWGod spake sometime in visions Georg Friedrich HANDELMy heart is inditing
Interspersed with traditional trumpet fanfares