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Handel choral 4216542
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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne [25:58]
Anthem for the Foundling Hospital [28:42]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Missa Brevis in F major [14:04]
Judith Nelson, Emma Kirkby (sopranos), Shirley Minty (contralto), James Bowman (counter-tenor), Martyn Hill (tenor), David Thomas (bass)
The Academy of Ancient Music/Simon Preston
Rec. 1977, London
Presto CD
L’OISEAU-LYRE 421654-2 [69:02]

From the dear dead days of 1977, here are the Academy of Ancient Music and the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, with Simon Preston at the helm, in a collection of less well-known choral works by Handel and Haydn. These are not ‘big occasion’ pieces, but preserve a certain intimacy, even informality. They are all sacred works; meditative at times, but often surprisingly lively, and written, in Handel’s case at least, to celebrate specific occasions.

The Haydn Mass was composed, in all probability, in 1749, when the composer was still a teenager. It is scored for two sopranos, SATB chorus, strings and continuo. The highlights here are the sections of soprano duets from Judith Nelson and Emma Kirkby, their voices matching beautifully, and both such musical singers. The choral contribution is perfectly judged, never over-singing, but crisply articulated and well balanced. The use of boys’ voices on the top line gives a sound of satisfying and delightful clarity.

Moving back to the two Handel works, the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne is an attractive and lively piece, none of the movements very long, with contrasts of tempo and texture that are perfectly judged . Again, the choir perform admirably, with a spirited rendition of the first number, which develops into a splendidly Handelian fugue. The soloists are more than adequate, and it is interesting to hear ‘superstars’ James Bowman and Emma Kirkby at this fairly early stage of their careers. Bowman is particularly fine in ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine’, the recitative with trumpet obbligato that starts the work.

Handel was a major benefactor of the Foundling Hospital, London's first sanctuary for orphaned and abandoned children. The composer's benefit concerts for the hospital raised thousands of pounds, Messiah being the most famous example. The Foundling Hospital Anthem was performed as a benefit to fund the completion of the hospital’s chapel. Written in 1749, it is the last of Handel's ‘special occasion’ pieces, with a text drawn mostly from the Psalms. It is not quite as attractive as the Ode; but mature Handel is mature Handel, after all, and it’s well worth a listen.

This recording was made, of course, when the ‘period’ movement was gathering momentum, though it has a pleasing directness which was sometimes absent in later ‘authentic’ readings of Handel and other Baroque music. I loved listening to this; the recording is excellent, managing to balance the forces ideally.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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