Sunday, 5 May 2019

Palpable enthusiasm & engagement: An English Coronation from Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli & Gabrieli Roar

An English Coronation
An English Coronation: 1902-1953; Gabrieli Consort & Players, Gabrieli Roar, Chetham's Symphonic Brass Ensemble, Paul McCreesh; Winged Lion   
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 May 2019 
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The young people of Gabrieli Roar bring amazing freshness and engagement to Paul McCreesh's 'fantasy coronation' programme

We might think that we are familiar with the music from the Coronation Service, but the sheer size of the service meant that there was a considerable amount of music required. And so the four 20th century coronations, those of King Edward VII (1902), King George V (1911), King George VI (1937) and Queen Elizabeth II (1953), present a remarkable assemblage of British music of the 20th century.  From these, Paul McCreesh has selected what he sees at the best music from these four and assembled it into a coherent liturgical structure, a fantasy Coronation if you will. Giving us the opportunity to hear some fine music and some neglected music in this striking context.

The disc An English Coronation 1902-1953, on Gabrieli's Winged Lion imprint, is very much a showcase for Gabrieli Roar, Gabrieli's choral training programme for young British singers, and they are joined by the Gabrieli Consort and Players, conductor Paul McCreesh, plus the Chetham's School Symphonic Brass Ensemble with Simon Russell Beale (as the Archbishop of Canterbury), Rowan Pierce (soprano), Matthew Martin (organ) and Ellie Slorach (Assistant conductor).

McCreesh has structured the disc as per the Coronation Service, largely following the 1937 service, with just a few small cuts. The choirs are divided into two, as they were at the Coronation, the smaller Westminster Choir which performed the unaccompanied music and the Coronation Choir which sings the larger scale music, combining the Gabrieli Consort and the 250 strong Gabrieli Roar, made up of singers from eleven partner choirs. The orchestra, of course, plays on period instruments (including Nicholas Daniels on Leon Goossens' early 20th century oboe) so one of the joys of the disc is being able to hear this music sung by the type of large-scale forces used at the Coronations and with the right sort of transparency in the orchestra. With the fanfares (an important part of the occasion), being provided by Chetham's School Symphonic Brass.

No attempt has been made to re-create the 20th century re-orchestrations of the music performed, so we hear Parry and Handel in their original with a 21st century baroque style for Handel (natural trumpets, but with the romantic organ of Ely Cathedral in the mix too!). Nor, thankfully, do we get any attempt to re-create what McCreesh describes as 'the clipped vocal style' of the period.

The recording reproduces something of the liturgical theatre of the event, not everything is close recorded and there is movement for the processions. Sometimes Simon Russell Beale's Archbishop of Canterbury seems a little distant, yet this gives a very real sense of the space being used. As the Archbishop, Beale makes a fine figure and sings too, at such moments as intoning the Veni Creator Spiritus (in Ernest Bullock's 1937 arrangement).

This was very much a 'youth project', yet one created in such a way as to engage everyone. Richard Bannan, one of the Gabrieli Consort basses,  says 'This project opened the eyes and ears of the uninitiated to the possibilities of wonderful classical music. It enriched many hearts with the life-affirming blood of cultural experience. It filled the young and hungry with good things. And best of all, the Gnarled Old Pros loved it too!' And Simon Toyne, director of the David Ross Education Trust Youth Choir, comments 'Just as many of the trebles assembled in 1952 for our Queen's coronation would never have sung in such a vast choir, or even heard a live orchestra before, so it was for many of the young people involved in An English Coronation'.

In fact, one of those 1953 trebles was a friend of mind as the late Malcolm Cottle (founder of London Concord Singers and former director of music at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street) was a treble in the St Paul's Cathedral contingent.

The recording makes us listen to familiar music with new ears and to discover forgotten gems. I was unfamiliar with Howells' overture The Kings Herald, nor had I heard Stanford's 'Coronation' Gloria in B flat for a long time, ditto Parry's Chorale Fantasia on O God our Help. Similarly it is wonderful to hear Walton's Coronation Te Deum performed with such youthful gusto, enthusiasm and accuracy. RVW's arrangement of The Old Hundredth (created for the 1953 Coronation) whilst well known, still managed to bring a lump to the throat. And the music is brought up to date with a new arrangement of the National Anthem by David Matthews.

The standard of performance is very impressive, you certainly do not need to make any allowances, and the young people were clearly inspired to rise to the level of the professionals they were working with. But the real joy of the disc is the sheer sense of atmosphere, the palpable enthusiasm and engagement of the young people.

The booklet includes a comprehensive article by Paul McCreesh, plus short passages by people who participated in the recording or one of the Coronations, which really manages to bring the project to life.

That this disc manages to be far more than a 'Greatest Hits from the Coronations' is a tribute to the imagination and energy of Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli and Gabrieli Roar, but also to the way the young singers engaged with the project.

Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli & Gabrieli Roar are giving a series of 'reduced forces' performances of the programme to celebrate the release of the disc, Purbeck Art Weeks (25/5), All Saints Church, Northampton (19/6), St Andrew's Church, Holborn, London (20/6). Full details from the Gabrieli website.

An English Coronation - Gabrieli Roar at Ely Cathedral July 2018 (Phot Sim Canetty Clarke)
An English Coronation - Gabrieli Roar at Ely Cathedral July 2018
(Photo Sim Canetty Clarke)
Elgar - Coronation March, Op. 65
Howells - The King’s Herald
Hymn - Rejoice Today with One Accord
Wood - O Most Merciful
Tallis Litany
Hymn- O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Parry - Three Chorale Fantasias: I. O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Elgar - Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Op. 39: No. 1 in D Major No. 1 in D Major
Entrance Fanfare
Parry - I Was Glad
The Presentation, Fanfares and Acclamations
Elgar - O Hearken Thou, Op. 64
Purcell - Hear My Prayer, O Lord, Z. 15
Vaughan Williams - Mass in G Minor: Creed Creed
Hymn - Come, Holy Ghost
Handel - Zadok the Priest, HWV 258
Parratt - Confortare (Be strong and play the man)
Anon, attrib. Redford - Rejoice in the Lord Alway
Byrd - I will not leave you comfortless
Gibbons - O Clap Your Hands Together
Wesley - Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace
Vaughan Williams - All People That on Earth do Dwell (The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune)
Vaughan Williams - Mass in G Minor: Sanctus
Vaughan Williams - O Taste and See
Stanford - ‘Coronation’ Gloria in B flat
Gibbons - Threefold Amen
Walton - Coronation Te Deum
David Matthews - Recessional and National Anthem
Walton - Crown Imperial
Gabrieli Consort
Gabrieli Roar
Gabrieli Players
Chetham's Symphonic Brass Ensemble
Simon Russell Beale (Archbishop of Canterbury)
Rowan Pierce (soprano)
Matthew Martin (organ)
Elli Slorach (assistant conductor)
Paul McCreesh (conductor)
Recorded Ely Cathedral 23-25 July 2018, Royal Masonic School Chapel, Rickmansworth, 26-27 July 2018, Church of St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, 6 September 2018
WINGED LION SIGCD 569 2CDs [81.18, 78.03]

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