Thursday 17 May 2018

Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music

Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell
Te Deum, Purcell & Charpentier; Choir of Westminster Abbey, St James Baroque, James O'Donnell; London Festival of Baroque Music at Westminster Abbey
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 15 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A beguiling concert and exceeding exultant.

On a beautiful sun-kissed evening I crossed Parliament Square with a spring in my step and into to the architectural wonder that is Westminster Abbey. You can taste a thousand years of history as you enter and its something of a privilege to hear works composed by Henry Purcell a previous Abbey organist, now lying in the north aisle “who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded."

As part of the London Festival of Baroque Music, the evening (Tuesday 15 May 2018) was a celebration of all things Te Deum, Purcell’s Te Deum in D Z232 and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum in D H146 bookending a programme performed by The Choir of Westminster Abbey and St James’ Baroque, directed by James O'Donnell. Music had become “run into the French way” following the Restoration and it was fascinating to hear contemporary works from either side of la Manche from the period of the Grand Siècle.

The corollary to all this historic atmosphere is the rather dubious acoustic properties of the Abbey. Even from my upfront position the textural clarity and vocal colour were decimated and all that lovely ornamentation became amorphous. Be that as it may – it is what it is. At any rate, you’d still have to travel a country mile to hear such a cohesive and comely choral sound.

As it turns out the expansive interpretations of both Te Deums lent themselves rather well to the building. The Purcell was sumptuous, what we lost vocally was more than made up for by the expressive orchestral sound that gave us choirs of angels and visions of heaven. What can sometimes sound a wee bit clunky and episodic took on a seamless and spiritual beauty.

The fillings in the Te Deum sandwich were somewhat mixed. Purcell’s Rejoice in the Lord Alway was elegant and ravishingly phrased. Unfortunately, someone decided to use margarine. Come ye sons of art, Purcell’s birthday ode to Queen Mary, sounded positively turgid. Where were all the instruments of joy on this triumphant day? Fortunately, Charpentier’s O Deus, O Salvator noster which was ethereal and beguiling, took away the funny taste.

Despite having forsworn the patronage of Louis XIV, Charpentier’s Te Deum is truly regal. Best known for its Prelude, the signature tune to the EBU, there were no ‘nul points’ here. Once again the spaciousness lent it a grandeur and nobility that can be lost with brisker tempi.

Quibbles aside, this was a beguiling concert and exceeding exultant.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMillan (★★★★) - CD review
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • The story of a journey: Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn in Schubert's Winter Journey  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic: the piano music of Robert Saxton (★★★★) - CD review
  • Philip Venables' 4:48 Psychosis returns (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Thrilling revival: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • Striking double in Clapham: Shadwell Opera debuts a new work with powerful Janacek song-cycle (★★★½) - opera review
  • Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Passio: from Tallis & Purcell to Kevin Hartnett via Bach (★★★)  - CD review
  • Out of the parlour and into the recital room - Hubert Parry's English lyrics (★★★★)  -  CD review
  • Beethoven unbound and Schubert cycles, I chat to Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams - interview
  • Bernstein, Debussy, Parry, Smyth, Bridge, Boulanger, Owen - BBC Proms 2018 - preview
  • What an unalloyed joy! And if all this isn’t advert enough for some sensible funding I don’t know what is (★★★★) - concert review
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