Prom 32: Stop Press – George II Crowned

The Coronation of King George II – the music performed at Westminster Abbey on 11 October 1727

The Choir of the King’s Consort
The King’s Consort
Robert King

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: 13 August, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The powers that be at BBC Television are a strange bunch. Someone decides that it would be a good idea to televise every concert (on BBC4) during the first two weeks of the Proms –regardless of content and the limit to how many fascinating angles can be shown of a clarinettist’s left nostril.

The Coronation of King George II proved one of the most visually interesting concerts – trumpet and drum processionals, fanfares from various parts of the hall, the choir singing the Introit from within the stalls, audience participation with various cries of “God Save the King” and some lusty communal singing of a tricky hymn – but not a television camera in sight!

Perhaps it was decided that Robert King’s eminently sensible decision to run the music straight through without applause would not give enough time for the Saturday-morning-kids-programme type of presentation that we have been subjected to.

Whatever the reason, television viewers missed a concert of wonderful music given equally wonderful performances. In case we needed reminding both the choir and the orchestra of The King’s Consort are amazingly disciplined, vigorous and yet thoroughly musical in their approach and, more to the point, they appear to really believe AND enjoy the music they are performing – a quality not evident in every concert.

Robert King lives every bar – through his baton, body and visual expressions and is fascinating rather than distracting to watch; the results speak for themselves. Rarely can I recall hearing so clearly the extraordinary part writing of Purcell’s I Was Glad – vivid, intense and lovingly phrased.

This was also the case in John Blow’s amazing God Spake Sometime in Visions – a quite staggeringly inventive work for chorus and strings which was the major discovery of the concert for this writer; I never thought I would find such individuality to challenge the great Purcell. Orlando Gibbons’s long setting of the Te Deum I found to be less memorable – the extended solo passages seemed rather laboured, but this was no doubt the fault of the hall rather than the singers.

It is not that often that one gets to hear Handel’s four Coronation Anthems in the same programme, let alone in their original context. What invention! Only Handel could get away with setting such awful words as “Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, And queens thy nursing mothers” (My Heart is Inditing). In all the Anthems both singing and playing were beyond reproach – controlled, well-phrased runs from the choir, wide-ranging dynamics and sympathetic and buoyant accompaniments from the orchestra.

Ironically the one slight blight on an otherwise outstanding evening came in the best known piece – Zadok the Priest – not the unfortunate accident by the poor organist whose foot slipped during the most famous crescendo in the history of music, but the use of a full and rather crude organ for the closing ’Alleluias’ that drowned the choir and orchestra in a sea of 32-foot growls. Not that authentic!

That apart, this was a most rewarding and stimulating evening that has had me rushing off to find Hyperion’s CD – oh, and no Radio 3 repeat!

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