Coronation Anthems & Silete Venti

Naxos 8.557003
1 CD
budget price
Recorded and released in 2002

Coronation Anthems  (HWV 258-61)
David Bates, countertenor
Elizabeth Franklin-Kitchen, soprano
Edward Lyon, tenor
Nicholas Warden, bass
Tallis Chamber Choir

Silete Venti  (HWV 242)
Rebecca Ryan, soprano

Royal Academy Consort (on modern instruments)
Conductor: Jeremy Summerly


It is noticeable that during the past few years the technical standards of baroque performance on Naxos have demonstrably improved (despite the occasional step backwards). Although this Handel disc does not display playing and singing on the same level as superb Naxos recordings by Canada’s Aradia Baroque Ensemble or Niquet’s Le Concert Spirituel, the quality of musicianship is never less than reliable. Most of the players and the soprano soloist are students at London’s Royal Academy of Music (where Early Music performance studies are enthusiastically directed by London Handel Festival director Laurence Cummings), and technical ability and general grasp of baroque style are not issues of concern.

However, these decent yet deliberate performances of the four coronation anthems simply do not possess the ideal quota of vitality and flamboyance. Summerly’s direction of both the Royal Academy Consort and Tallis Chamber Choir are not at all unstylish, but my overall impression of the anthems is that they lack impact due to their lack of refined articulation or poise. The experience of listening to the entire disc in one sitting is a bit like enjoying a wholesome and substantial cake without the icing on the top. Perhaps this can be attributed to the rather muddy recorded sound. It does not help that the choir is rather overwhelming in parts, with force more prominent than contrapuntal clarity, and sopranos who become too heavy handed in tutti sections (judging from this, one cannot imagine The Tallis Chamber Choir singing anything by Tallis less intimate than “Spem in alium”). In a world full of great recordings of this repertoire, this new contribution does not add an awful lot except a viable cheap alternative. Those wanting a brilliant experience of “Zadok the Priest” (and who doesn’t?) ought to spend a little more on the recordings by Robert King (Hyperion), Stephen Cleobury (EMI), or Simon Preston (DG Archiv).

The highpoint of this disc is incontrovertibly the soprano solo motet “Silete venti”. Often mistakenly associated with Handel’s time in Italy because of its Latin text, this stunning motet was certainly composed in London no later than 1732 (when Handel recycled it in Esther). The fizzing sinfonia conveys turbulent winds, the declamatory entrance of the soprano orders the storm to abate in a ravishing accompanied recitative, and then Handel proceeds to churn out one delight after another seemingly without effort. Rebecca Ryan is a fresh and engaging soprano (she was the soloist in the world premiere of certain parts of the “Gloria” during a press conference at the Royal Academy shortly after its ‘discovery’): her performance is creditable, and Summerly’s shaping of the orchestral elements is sufficiently sympathetic to the text. It may not be an account of the work to truly make the storms abate, but it is well worth hearing. Those wanting a first-class recording can choose according to their personal taste between wonderful versions by Sylvia McNair (with The English Baroque Soloists, on Philips), Karina Gauvin (with Les Violons du Roy, on Dorian), or Lynne Dawson (with The Sixteen Orchestra, on Chandos). Yet this inexpensive and attractive version justifies the production of the disc and ought not disappoint many listeners.

© Les Robarts - November 2002

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