Coronation Anthems
~Zadok the Priest, HWV 258 ~
~The King Shall Rejoice, HWV 260 ~

Decca 470 226-2
1 CD
full price
(Recorded in July 2000 / June 2001)

-Also features Coronation Anthems by Boyce, Croft, Clarke, Blow, and Purcell:
  • William Boyce: The King shall rejoice; Come, Holy Ghost; Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem
  • William Croft: The Lord is a sun and a shield
  • Jeremiah Clarke: Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem
  • John Blow: Let my prayer come up; The Lord God is a sun and a shield
  • Henry Purcell: I was glad; My heart is inditing

The Choir of New College, Oxford
The Academy of Ancient Music (on period instruments)
Conductor: Edward Higginbottom



Handel's coronation anthems require neither introduction or description here. Edward Higginbottom's Choir of New College, Oxford, have thorough experience of Handel's grand choral works - they functioned as the regular choir on most of the Hyperion series of oratorio recordings by Robert King and The King's Consort, with whom they recorded all four of Handel's coronation anthems in 1989. On this new disc the New College choir perform the two most familiar and popular of these - "Zadok the Priest" and "The King Shall Rejoice" - with plenty of poise and polish. Nothing is found wanting in their performance, and The Academy of Ancient Music - who also recorded both of these Handel anthems with King's College, Cambridge at around the same time for EMI - yet again prove that their orchestral support is excellent and unfussy.

It could be argued that this disc gives us nothing new or valuable to add to our understanding of Handel, with both choir and orchestra having been well represented in the discography of these Handel works already. However, this disc is a treasure-trove, and its unique facility of placing Handel's anthems between older and subsequent music from the same tradition gives us a far more detailed context for Handel's compositions than has been previously possible on one disc. Anthems composed by other composers specifically for British coronations from James II (1685) until George III (1761) provide several fascinating points of comparison with Handel's more familiar work. In particular, Boyce's setting of "The King Shall Rejoice" turns out to just as thrilling and colorful as Handel's (the New College choir performed Boyce's version from facsimiles of the manuscripts held in Oxford's Bodelian Library, which is only a few hundred yards from New College). Croft's "The Lord is a sun and a shield", composed for the coronation of George I in 1714, is an intriguing example of a good composer who has been eclipsed by the celebrated generations that preceded and followed him. Handel's lovely setting of "My heart is inditing" is not included, but a mental comparison is illuminating while hearing Purcell's fine setting composed 42 years earlier for James II.

It can be argued that this chronological survey of musical styles deployed by Higginbottom actually gives us a better contextual picture of Handel's achievements with the ceremonial form than Robert King's recent The Coronation of George II - a highly dubious 'reconstruction' that is nevertheless an entertaining excuse for a concert. Our appreciation of the use of music in other coronations helps us to appreciate how Handel was both working within the existing British tradition and also dramatically striking out on his own. Anybody remotely interested in Handel's coronation anthems ought to invest in this excellently performed and researched disc without hesitation.

David Vickers - June 2002

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