HANDEL Coronation Anthems
There are plenty of very good recordings of the four anthems that Handel composed for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline (held in Westminster Abbey on October 11, 1727), but this new one by The Sixteen leaps straight towards the top of the heap (those preferring to hear boy trebles might already admire the excellent version by King’s College, Cambridge, under Cleobury).
We have come selfishly to expect reliability, stylishness and honest fine musicianship from Harry Christophers, his singers and instrumentalists. Yet these fresh, spontaneous and vivacious performances are revelatory. Not only is the choral singing wonderfully clear, perfectly enunciated, beautifully phrased and impeccably tuned, but also the orchestral playing – an aspect too often relegated to auto-pilot in this repertoire – is brilliantly alert, bold and lyrical. Zadok the Priest never fails to make a strong impression even in average performances (and The Sixteen’s expertly judged reading is anything but average), but the special quality of this disc is that the other three lesser-known anthems also receive performances that allow them to shine just as brightly as the most famous (and shortest) anthem. My heart is inditing is radiantly performed (“The King shall have pleasure in her beauty” is gorgeously shaped), The King shall rejoice is splendidly poised and paced, and the first part of Let thy hand be strengthened conveys the perfect juxtaposition of forthrightness and elegance. Christophers’s sure direction locks onto the musical interest and richness of each section in the longer anthems (some other good versions rely on good openings and grand conclusions, but the bits in between sometimes get a bit lost). Coupled with a sparkling account of the Organ Concerto Op 4 No 4 (superbly played by Alastair Ross, and with a magnificent choral “Alleluia” finale created for the 1735 revival of Athalia), a couple of orchestral interludes and the last chorus of Messiah, the judicious programme avoids the overkill factor one sometimes encounters when all four anthems are heard consecutively. Donald Burrows’s booklet-note is ideally detailed and accessible, and overall this disc ranks as The Sixteen’s most exciting achievement in its impressive Handel discography.