Saturday 24 May 2014

Peace and Celebration - EUBO

Peace and Celebration - European Union Baroque Orchestra
Handel Coronation Anthems, Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, European Union Baroque Orchestra, Lars-Ulrik Mortensen: Obsidian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 24 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Live recording of Handel's music for the English Royal court from Lars-Ulrik Mortensen and his young performers

In 2013 the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) and their director Lars-Ulrik Mortensen gave a concert tour with the choir of Clare College, Cambridge. The final concert was at St. John's Smith Square and this was recorded live and has been issued on CD on the Obsidian label. Entitled Pace and Celebration the programme celebrates Handel's connections with the Royal families of Hanover and of England, and is thus very apt in this year of celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Hanoverian dynasty.

Conducted by Lars-Ulrich Mortensen, EUBO and the choir of Clare College, Cambridge perform Handel's Coronation Anthems (Zadok the Priest, Let thy hand be strengthened, My heart is inditing, The King shall rejoice), the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne and the Concerto Grosso Op.3 No.2. Thus we get music written for George II's Coronation and music written to celebrate both Queen Anne's 49th birthday and the peach of Utrecht. We also get two of the loveliest movements Handel wrote, the Largo from the Concerto Grosso Op.3 No.2 with its singing oboe over a pair of rippling cellos, and the opening movement of the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, Eternal source of light divine with its glorious duet for counter-tenor and trumpet. Alex Potter is the counter-tenor soloist on the disc and he is joined by a group of soloists from the choir (sopranos Gabrielle Haigh, Sophie Horrocks, Helen Lilley and Janneke Dupre, basses Hugo Popplewell and William Cole.

Handel's Zadok the Priest creates its effects from remarkably simple means; Handel was writing for large forces performing in the space of Westminster Abbey. Mortensen keeps the introduction controlled, so that the firsts chorus entry blazes for. His speeds are steady, but the performance is involving with crisp rhythms, and nice tight runs.

Let thy hand be strengthened, is a more intimate work. The performers give it a nice rhythmic flexibility with some lovely details and nicely pointed vocal lines. There is a rather affecting shape to the phrases in the second section, with a lively final part.

The Concerti Grossi Op. 3 were published in 1734 by John Walsh. Number 2 was written rather earlier, and some of the movements are linked to the Brockes Passion. The opening Vivace is nicely crisp. Mortensen's tempo is quite brisk, and his solo violins respond with great virtuosity and musicality, giving a nice sense of dialogue to the piece. The Largo is beautifully poised, with the solo oboe singing over the rippling arpeggios of the two solo cellos. The perky Allegro is vibrantly involving. An elegant Menuetto is then followed by a crisply stylish gavotte.

My Heart is Inditing opens in nicely intimate fashion, with both singers and instrumentalists shaping the phrases finely. They display a nice sense of line in the second section, and there are many felicitous details with the third section being crisply stylish. The final section is briskly involving and vibrant.

The opening movement of Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne is pure magic with Alex Potter's lovely hushed counter tenor duetting with a fabulous trumpet solo, both displaying a fine sense of line. The perkier second section allows both to display their facility in passagework. From then on, it is rather down-hill mainly because the rather banal text does not seem to have continued to inspire Handel. He does give the rather awful refrain The day that gave great Anna birth, who fix'd a lasting peace on earth. a lively variety of choral textures. Performances from choir and ensemble are uniformly involving throughout, with Potter impressing in the various counter-tenor solos. He is joined by a selection of sopranos from the choir, who display confidently efficient musicality though one or two sound a little technically stretched. Perhaps this is one area where the recording being live is most noticeable. The work finishes with a vigorously characterful penultimate section, which leads the rather grand final chorus with a lovely echo effect.

The final work on the disc is the last of the Coronation Anthems, The King shall rejoice. The orchestra give a lovely bounce to the accompaniment with a nice contrast to the lovely legato line from the choir. Handel keeps his brush quite broad here, and Mortensen and his forces bring out the large scale grandeur with some lovely fugal passages.

Apart from occasional corners, there is very little to indicate that this recording was made live except for way it captures the vividly involving performances from Mortenson and his forces. I am great admirer of EUBO and this disc makes a fine companion to their previous Handel disc.

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1739) - Zadok the Priest, HWV258
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1739) - Let thy hand be strengthened, HWV259
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1739) - Concerto Gorsso Op.3 No.3 HWV313
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1739) - My heart is inditing, HWV261
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1739) - Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV74
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1739) - The King shall rejoice, HWV260
Alex Potter (counter tenor)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
European Union Baroque Orchestra
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (director)
Recorded live at St John's Smith Square, 3 September 2013
OBSIDIAN CD711 1CD [69.34]
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