The Crown: Coronation anthems by Handel & Purcell

Choeur & Orchestre de l’Opéra Royal, conducted by Gaétan Jarry
Versailles Spectacles CVS110

For anyone wanting a souvenir of the Coronation, here is the perfect answer, at least so far as the musical part is concerned. And it comes from an unexpected source. For this sumptuously produced CD – entirely performed by French forces (nearly 100 musicians) – was recorded in the Chapelle Royale in the palace of Versailles, taking full advantage of its resplendent acoustic. Not only does it include the anthems Purcell composed for the coronation of James II in 1685 and Handel wrote for that of George II (1727), but we also have the introductory procession and recession along with fanfares interposed between the anthems and gleamingly enhanced by the resonance of the chapel. There are even the ‘Vivats’ and perhaps most touchingly of all the final shouts of ‘God save King Charles’. One can almost sense the French, albeit probably temporarily, regretting republicanism!

It would have been relatively straightforward for a project of this kind to have been achieved simply by making the right sort of noise – of which there is of course plenty – but there was no likelihood of that with Gaétan Jarry at the helm. One of the most outstanding of France’s present golden generation of early music musicians, Jarry here leads performances not only of magnificence in the celebratory, fully scored anthems, but which show every sign of care in more reflective music. It is evident that much attention has been paid not just only to the choir’s diction and articulation of English, but nuances of expressive word painting. I love, for example, the little nudge on the word ‘strong’ in the chorus ‘Praise the Lord’ for the oratorio Solomon, a worthy and fitting encore to the anthems at the end of the programme. Admirable too is the obvious care taken over the contrapuntal verses of the Purcell ‘My heart is inditing’, which are not only beautifully interwoven by the soloists but also sung with a true sense of understanding of the text. The final ‘Allelujah’ of the same anthem brings one of the rare moments of choral untidiness, the ensemble and precision being for the most part admirable.

The more extrovert anthems need little detailed comment. All make their due effect, with ‘Zadok the Priest’ producing the ‘hairs-on-the-back-of the-neck’ effect it should. Another memorable moment comes with the verse ‘Exceeding Glad Shall He Be’ from Handel’s ‘The King Shall Rejoice’, where the dancing melody is treated to joyous imitative expression between parts, while the entries at the opening of his setting of ‘My Heart is inditing’ are superbly judged.

In keeping with Versailles Spectacles’ high standards, the presentation is outstanding, with a 127pp booklet with articles and illustrations, a number of them in colour. With the credits on the last page comes the legend ‘In honour of his Majesty King Charles III’. Given that the CD is a more than worthy tribute to the King, it is greatly to be hoped it will be brought to his attention.

Brian Robins

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