The Coronation of King George II

Hyperion CDA67286
2 CDs (for the price of 1)
Recorded in 2001.
Released in 2002.

A reconstruction of the 1727 Coronation of King George II at Westminster Abbey

- Handel: Coronation Anthems (HWV 258-61)
- Ceremonial music by John Blow, William Child, John Farmer, Orlando Gibbons, Henry Purcell, and Thomas Tallis

Choir of The King's Consort
The King's Consort (on period instruments)
Conductor: Robert King




Most Handelians have idly wondered what the original context of the four coronation anthems was. Precious little exact information is known about the events at Westminster Abbey in October 1727, so Robert King's extravaganza entitled The Coronation of George II goes some way to assisting our understanding of the occasion. It is fascinating to hear "Zadok the Priest" in context, and to experience Handel's unique musical style alongside earlier music by Tallis, Farmer and Gibbons. The Coronation of King George II is therefore a valuable addition to any Handel collection. The tolling bells, trumpet fanfares, drum rolls, and shouts of "God save the King!" bring this project a regal and ceremonial atmosphere, and helps us appreciate Handel's music afresh. 

King has, of course, recorded these anthems for Hyperion before, but they are given new performances here that are good enough to entirely justify the project. King's new account of "Zadok the Priest" has a flowing introduction and impact that his earlier version lacked, and the first part of "My heart is inditing" has an eloquence and tenderness that is ideally suited to the context of the Queen's coronation. But perhaps the CD should come with an advisory warning to all purchasers that much content is firmly hypothetical, and owes more to The King's Consort's celebration of their 21st anniversary than solid historical evidence. How else could we get a stunning performance of a Handel "March" that is actually an overture composed in the mid-1740s? Likewise, even if we know that the choir of Westminster Abbey performed one of the three Te Deum settings by Orlando Gibbons, how can we trust it was the version Robert King thinks is the best one? How do we know that the printed order of service was unreliable? Why would a public event intended to consolidate Hanoverian rule borrow so much unrequired music from the 1685 coronation of James Stuart II? Neither is this really an authentic "liturgical" presentation - it is difficult to believe that the Coronation service was 95% music without readings or sermons, and the presence of anthems by Blow and Purcell in addition to Handel's four stretches credibility somewhat. 

Yet it would be churlish to deny that these are all lovely performances (the soloists include Carolyn Sampson, James Bowman, and Charles Daniels - although this is not advertised on the cover). The sheer quality of this recording cannot be denied, and it provides a flavour - if not the actual facts - of a historical event of great interest to all Handelians. Perhaps this considerably enjoyable recording ought to be regarded as an imaginative concert rather than bona fide musicological reconstruction. Robert King's readable booklet essay provides accurate enough background detail, although his many unsupported statements should not be taken at face value. To be ruthlessly honest, serious academic research of the available resources would probably not yield up much information, and certainly could not fill two CDs of splendid music. An ideal Christmas stocking filler. 

David Vickers - November 2001

Return to the G. F. Handel Home Page