London Handel Festival – Music for Royal Spaces

Handel
I will magnify thee, HWV250b
As pants the hart, HWV251c
Te Deum in D (Caroline), HWV280
Let God arise, HWV256b
Te Deum in A, HWV282

Choristers of the King’s Chapel & London Handel Singers

London Handel Orchestra
Adrian Butterfield


Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 20 March, 2024
Venue: The King’s Chapel of the Savoy, Savoy Hill, London

On first glance, the three Psalm settings are probably better known to those familiar with Handel’s choral music as titles among the eleven Chandos Anthems, which he wrote when working for the Duke of Chandos at his new estate in Edgware. But the works presented here are later versions of those texts, dating from the 1720s when Handel enjoyed the most prestigious patronage in the land, that of the monarch himself. They were intended for more private devotions at the Chapel Royal however, rather than grand public ceremonial like the Coronation Anthems. The dimensions of the King’s Chapel of the Savoy and number of performers here therefore corresponded very closely to the circumstances in which these compositions were first heard.

Adrian Butterfield led generally sober and dignified accounts, with vocal soloists from the London Handel Singers attentive to the words; the whole effect was certainly more redolent of Anglican liturgy than anything theatrical, Handel’s other compositional preoccupation in the 1720s. As a chorus those singers were bolstered by the Chapel’s resident choir, The Choristers of the King’s Chapel, ensuring a broader, sonorous texture in the full choral numbers – for instance with the emphatic shouts of “Amen” punctuating the final verse of ‘I will magnify thee’, even before the surging waves of contrapuntal fervour when that word is set by itself as the concluding passage of that movement. They also attacked with gusto the word painting of its first verse, where the phrase “let his enemies be scattered” recalled Handel’s magnificent earlier setting of the Dixit Dominus.

Each half of the programme concluded with one of the composer’s less well-known settings of the Te Deum. The so-called ‘Caroline’ (written in 1714 for Princess Caroline’s arrival in England, later to become Queen as the consort of George II, though the work was revised before that point) was taken at a fairly stately tempo, allowing its longer passages for solo voices to come through with clarity and deliberation. Glistening trumpets made up for the London Handel Singers taking up the ensemble movements without the assistance of the Choristers. The later A-major Te Deum drew more solid singing from all the vocal forces, although both compositions feature expressive solo settings of “When thou tookest upon thee” with flute – the latter version tender and charming here, that in the ‘Caroline’ more solemn and portentous.

Royal these compositions may have been, but it was welcome to hear some of Handel’s less frequently encountered choral writing, away from the bolder gestures of the oratorios and more public sacred music, in an aptly impressive but intimate venue.

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