Sunday, 14 April 2019

Small-scale delights at the edge of Handel’s London: Chandos Anthems & Trio Sonatas at St Lawrence Whitchurch

St Lawrence Whitchurch - © Copyright John Salmon
St Lawrence Whitchurch - © Copyright John Salmon
Handel Chandos Anthems & Trio Sonatas; London Handel Orchestra, soloists from the Royal College of Music, Adrian Butterfield; London Handel Festival at St Lawrence Whitchurch Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Handel's Chandos Anthems in the church for which they were written, sung by the sort of forces he would have expected

Handel’s London stretches all the way to the end of the Northern Line and so the London Handel Festival made a visit to the parish church of St Lawrence Whitchurch, Little Stanmore, where Handel was resident composer in 1717 and 1718. This is no ordinary parish church. The mediaeval tower survives, but the rest of the church was rebuilt and extravagantly decorated by James Brydges – later to become the first Duke of Chandos – with brilliantly coloured biblical scenes on the ceiling and at the front, and (rather more tasteful) trompe-l’oeil on the side walls.

At St Lawrence Whitchurch on 10 April 2019, the Festival theme of Handel’s Divas gave way to programme of small-scale instrumental chamber music and two of the Chandos Anthems performed by a one-per-part ensemble of singers and instrumentalists, probably the forces for which the Anthems were composed. Adrian Butterfield conducted the London Handel Orchestra with soloists from the Royal College of Music, Camilla Harris soprano, Michael Bell tenor, Matthew Keighley tenor, Hugo Herman-Wilson baritone It seems much of the music in the programme was recycled by Handel, not just from his own past and future work but from other composers of the day: Tamerlano, Athalia and the Brockes Passion would have been picked up by the expert ear, and anybody could have spotted arias and choruses from Messiah.
The trio sonatas for two violins and continuo had very different-sounding violins that took some getting used to – and the country air treated them very differently. The third movement of the Opus 5 was particularly lovely and the jaunty peasant dances that ended both pieces were perfect for the rustic setting.

The Anthems were as much a showcase for the players as for the singers. There are movements with duetting oboe and bassoon, and complex violin writing. The voice part had some rather tricky word-setting betraying the fact that Handel had only recently arrived in London when he wrote them. Whilst the players showed their experience on the Baroque circuit, the singers, students from the Royal College of Music, were fixed to their scores and sang like choristers for the choruses – which they couldn’t really afford to do. It might have been (sort of) fine in a service but I felt they hadn’t looked at each other’s part. They did sing like soloists for their solos though.

The venue did give some opportunity to reflect on the nature of patronage of the arts. James Brydges had made a fortune by marrying well (three times) and by being Paymaster General for the army in the reign of Queen Anne. He built an enormous stately home, Cannons, and employed numerous artists and poets of the day: John Gay, Pope, Grinling Gibbons as well as Handel. He lost his vast fortune in the collapse of the South Sea Bubble, whereas Handel benefited by cannily pulling out in time. Cannons was demolished (and recycled) after Brydges’ death and the works he commissioned survive, as do his projects to alleviate child poverty. He endowed the Foundling Hospital, of which Handel himself was to become a major benefactor. Money gained by war and speculation being put to a better use – very topical.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Handel
Trio Sonata Op 5 No. 6 in F for two violins and continuo HWV 401
Chandos Anthem No.7, ‘My song shall be alway’ HWV 252
Trio Sonata Op 5 No. 5 in G minor for two violins and continuo HWV 400
Chandos Anthem No.11, ‘Let God arise’ HWV 256a

Adrian Butterfield conductor
London Handel Orchestra

Soloists from the Royal College of Music
Camilla Harris soprano
Michael Bell tenor
Matthew Keighley tenor
Hugo Herman-Wilson baritone

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