Coronation Anthems &
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne

EMI Classics 7243 5 57140 2 2
1 CD
full price
Recorded in January 2001.
Released in 2001.

"Coronation Anthems" (HWV 258-61)
including Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne
(HWV 74)

Susan Gritton (soprano)
Robin Blaze (countertenor)
Michael George (bass)

Choir of King's College, Cambridge
Academy of Ancient Music (on period instruments)
Conductor: Stephen Cleobury





Handel composed four anthems for the Coronation of George II in 1727, "Let thy hand be strengthened", "Zadok the Priest", "The King Shall Rejoice", and "My heart is inditing". "Zadok the Priest" - by far the shortest of the four - inevitably remains the most familiar to the average Handelian, despite good recordings of the anthems by Winchester Cathedral Choir (with The Brandenburg Consort, Argo), Westminster Abbey (with The English Concert, DG Archiv), New College Oxford (with The King's Consort, Hyperion) and The Monteverdi Choir (with The English Baroque Soloists, Philips). But the other longer anthems have their treasures too, most notably the solemn yet beautiful "Let justice and mercy" section of "Let thy hand be strengthened" (the only anthem with basic string and oboe scoring), and the delicate joy of the opening of "My heart is inditing" reinforced by the delayed entry of trumpets and drums.

Any recording of the coronation anthems that gives equal enthusiasm and detailed commitment to the lesser known three is a welcome addition to the catalogue. Stephen Cleobury directs unfussy transparent performances, although his interpretations are not the most stylish and regal yet recorded (would Handel have wanted the altos to trill on "May the King live forever" in "Zadok the Priest"? It isn't in the original manuscripts and sounds very odd). But even if this recording is not indispensable, it is very enjoyable: the Choir of King's College Cambridge are probably represent the best choral sound with boy trebles on disc, without many hints of poor intonation or strain. The wonderful orchestral introduction to "Zadok the Priest" lacks the suspense that makes the modulations shimmer and the choral entry burst into the texture with such drama. Yet the massive homophonic entrance is grand enough for most tastes, and is impressively loud for such a small choir. The rest of the anthems are given similarly efficient and adequate accounts - there may be nothing astonishing and new here, but it is also refreshing to hear something done with such good sense and practical judgement. Surprisingly, the Academy of Ancient Music have never recorded the Coronation Anthems before. They sound typically polished and reliable even without their directors Christopher Hogwood, Andrew Manze, or Paul Goodwin. Robert King's Coronation of George II (Hyperion) probably contains more spectacular performances of the anthems in their 'correct' order. Yet King's performances use female sopranos, and are interspersed with an alleged liturgical reconstruction of the coronation service that is at best highly dubious.

What sets this King's College Cambridge recording apart from all others is its companion piece, the delightful Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, "Eternal source of light divine". This relative rarity is available already on two recordings, a rapturous version by Robert King (Hyperion) and a patchy run through by an earlier incarnation of the Academy of Ancient Music (Decca). Robin Blaze's superb singing in the slow opening duet with natural trumpet is a highlight of the disc, comfortably equaling James Bowman's exquisite collaboration with Robert King. Yet Cleobury's performers are on more glittering form throughout the entire piece than Robert King's, and considered as a whole this new version supplants the Hyperion version as the benchmark recording. It cannot be suggested that any recording is eternally definitive, yet there need be no desperate requirement for another version of either the anthems or the ode in the near future.

David Vickers - November 2001

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