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George Frideric HANDEL(1685-1759) Dixit Dominus, Zadok the Priest, Ode for Queen Anne
[Processional] Jean-Danican PHILIDOR(1657-1708) Batteries de timballes* [2:00] George Frideric HANDEL Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (HWV 74)**
[20:46] Zadok the Priest (Coronation Anthem No. 1) (HWV 258) [6:13] Plainchant Dixit Dominus Domino meo [1:01] George Frideric HANDEL Dixit Dominus (HWV 232)*** [32:59] Israel in Egypt (HWV 54): The Lord shall reign [2:54]
Kiera Duffy**/***, Sandra Simon*** (soprano), Meg Bragle (mezzo)**/***,
Scott Mello (tenor)***, José Gotera (bass)***; Matthew Bassett (timpani)*
Apollo's Singers, Apollo's Fire (The Cleveland Baroque
rec. live, 2-3 February 2007 (HWV 232), 18-21 October 2008 (HWV
54, 74, 258), St Paul's Church, Cleveland Heights, OH, USA.
AVIE AV2270 [64:56]
This disc includes compositions of great stylistic difference
from various periods in Handel's life.
In her liner-notes Jeannette Sorrell writes: "While he
[Handel] might not have perfectly absorbed the languages of
his different homelands, his ability to absorb their musical
styles was stunning". That seems to be the subject of this
disc and explains the selection of works.
Surprisingly the earliest piece comes last. Handel composed
his setting of Psalm 110 (Vulgate: 109), Dixit Dominus,
in April 1707 in Rome. It is scored for five solo voices and
five-part strings with basso continuo. There are two verses
which are set in the form of arias, for soprano and alto respectively.
The other verses are set for the whole ensemble; these also
include passages for solo voices. The whole texture suggests
that the solo parts are to be sung by the members of the choir.
I am not sure whether Kiera Duffy and Meg Bragle are regular
members of Apollo's Singers. They are listed as such
in the booklet, but that could just mean that they participate
in the tutti sections. There is some difference, though, in
the way they sing their solos and the performances of the other
members of the choir in their solo episodes. This is quite prominent,
especially because Duffy and Bragle use quite a lot of vibrato,
much more than the other soloists. Their incessant vibrato is
damaging, even though it isn't that wide. Dixit Dominus
is a theatrical work, and especially the opening verse and the
sixth verse, 'Dominus a dextris tui', are highly
dramatic. That doesn't really come off here. Dynamically
the singing and playing are too flat, the tempi are on the slow
side and too little attention is paid to the text.
Dixit Dominus was composed for the nameday of the Spanish
King Felipe V, which was celebrated on 1 May in Frascati near
Rome. In that respect it wasn't very different from the
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, composed in 1713.
The author of the text of the Ode was Ambrose Philips who praises
the Queen's virtues as peacemaker. This is particularly
expressed in the first chorus (with alto solo): "The day
that gave great Anna birth, who fix'd a lasting peace
on earth". This is used as a refrain and refers to the
Peace of Utrecht of 1713 which marked the end of the War of
the Spanish Succession. The opening movement is one of Handel's
most beautiful creations: a duet of alto and trumpet, over chordal
string playing, on the text "Eternal source of light divine!
With double warmth thy beams display, and with distinguish'd
glory shine to add a lustre to this day." It is again Ms
Bragle's vibrato which impairs the effect, especially
as she doesn't blend that well with the trumpet. The
celebratory character isn't fully conveyed and the not
very brilliant recording does not help either. The last section
is set for double choir, and here the second choir, acting like
an echo of the first, is placed behind the second.
Zadok the Priest is one of Handel's most famous
compositions. It is one of his four Coronation Anthems,
which were performed on 11 October 1727 at Westminster Abbey
on the occasion of the coronation of George II. It is still
often performed at celebrations connected with the British monarchy.
It is the shortest piece of the four, comprising an instrumental
sinfonia and a chorus in two sections: 'Zadok the Priest'
and 'God save the King!'. One of the features
of the sinfonia is the increase in drama, reflected by a dynamic
acceleration. That comes off only partially here. That said
this piece is the most convincing on the disc. The jubilation
which is reflected in the text is realised rather well.
The Ode is introduced by a solo for the timpani whose composer
is referred to as "J.D. Philidor" in the track-list.
In the liner-notes Ms Sorrell mentions "André Philidor"
as the composer. That is François-André Danican Philidor, who
spent some time in England and was also famous as a chess-player.
It is much more likely that the composer was in fact Jean-Danican
(1657-1708) as he was active as a wind player in the army, but
also as a drummer. He was never in England, and the inclusion
of this piece in the programme is rather odd. It may work well
in a live performance, but a disc is different. Also I cannot
see the justification for including the plainchant psalm tone
of Psalm 110; it does not help that it is performed so artificially.
As a bonus we hear the double chorus which closes Israel
in Egypt, 'The Lord shall reign forever and ever'.
This is often performed as an encore in concerts of this ensemble.
It is nicely sung, but its full power doesn't come across.
On balance this recording has left me not very impressed. The
dramatic character of Handel's music is not fully conveyed,
and the interpretations fail to satisfy in terms of style. The
alternative for the Ode is Robert King (Hyperion, 1989),
for Dixit Dominus Thomas Hengelbrock (review).
Johan van Veen
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