Tuesday 8 January 2019

Handel at Cannons - Chandos Te Deum and Chandos Anthem No. 8

Handel - Chandos Te Deum & Chandos Anthem No. 8 - Onyx Classics
George Frideric Handel Chandos Te Deum, Chandos Anthem No. 8; London Handel Orchestra and Soloists, Adrian Butterfield; Onyx  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 January 2019 
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Two of Handel's sacred pieces for the Duke of Chandos in vivid re-creations of the original performance style

This disc on Onyx Classics from Adrian Butterfield and the London Handel Orchestra, leader Oliver Webber, features two of the works that Handel wrote for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons, the Chandos Te Deum and Chandos Anthem No. 8 'O come let us sing unto the Lord' recorded in the location where they were first performed, the church of St Lawrence, Little Stanmore, Middlesex, using the sort of forces that Handel would have directed for the Duke of Chandos, one voice per part and single instrumental lines. The singers are Grace Davidson, Charles Daniels, Nicholas Mulroy, Benedict Hymas and Edward Grint.

Handel's Chandos Anthems were written for the Duke of Chandos during the period 1717 to 1718 when Handel was periodically in residence at Cannons.  The Duke's rebuilding of his house, Cannons, was not finished until 1720 and so services took place in the church of St Lawrence which (unlike the house) still survives and is one of the few locations where were can hear Handel's music in the venue for which it was first written, added to which the organ at the church includes all the the surviving pipework from the 1716 Gerard Smith organ which was built for the church [see the Goetze & Gwynn website for the details of their reconstruction of the organ].

The forces for which Handel wrote were slightly odd, dependent as he was on the musicians engaged by the Duke.
So the earlier Chandos Anthems are three part, with just soprano, tenor and bass, and the addition of extra voices simply added tenor parts so that the music on this disc is technically either STTB or STTTB. But, though Handel wrote for the singers in the tenor clef, the sort of high tenor voice would, in Purcell's day, have been regarded as an alto voice. So on this disc we get the music performed by just single voices with what might be thought of as the alto line sung by a high tenor in a manner familiar from recent Purcell recordings, and supported by an instrumental ensemble using single instruments. The result is a long way from larger-scale choral interpretations of this music, and the whole disc pulses with an engaging, intimate vitality.

We start with the Chandos Te Deum, written in 1718 and in fact Handel's longest setting of the text. He would re-write it and shorten it for use by the Chapel Royal in the 1720s. The Chandos Anthem No. 8 was also written in 1718, as was the pastoral Acis and Galatea, and all probably used the same small group of soloists.

For both the Te  Deum and the anthem, Handel uses a flexible structure of arias, duets and ensembles, breaking the text up into small sections and moving fluidly from one scoring to another in a manner which would become familiar in his larger scale pieces. Having the works sung by single voices means that these sections flow quite naturally with solos seeming to arise out of ensembles, and vice versa.

To bring this style of performance off needs singers atuned to both solo and ensemble singing. The problem with using one voice to a part can sometimes be that the ensembles sections are beautifully blended but the solo passages come over as a trifle bland and undercharacterised. Not here, as Adrian Butterfield has chosen a fine group of soloists. The tenors seem to get the lion's share of the solo moments with some soprano solos. Grace Davidson manages to suggest the treble voice in the ensemble passages whilst developing a more bravura style in her solo moments. Similarly Charles Daniels and Nicholas Mulroy do not disappoint in the arias, whilst ensuring that the ensembles are very much a group event, and with the ensembles we never lose sight of individual voices either.

The style is crisp and vivid, with Butterfield clearly relishing the bite which his small ensemble is able to bring to the pieces. The music is arresting from the opening moments of the Chandos Te Deum and grips throughout the disc. There are plenty more Chandos Anthems (Handel wrote a total of eleven) and I do hope that Adrian Butterfield and his forces give us more.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Chandos Te Deum, Chandos Anthem No. 8
Grace Davidson (soprano)
Charles Daniels (tenor)
Nicholas Mulroy (tenor)
Benedict Hymas (tenor)
Edward Grint (bass)
London Handel Orchestra (leader Oliver Webber)
Adrian Butterfield (conductor)
Recorded 11-13 May 2017, St Lawrence's Church, Little Stanmore, Middlesex
ONYX 4203 1CD [65.35]

Available from Amazon.

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  • Diverse tapestry: Clare Norburn's Burying the Dead at Baroque at the Edge (★★★★) - music theatre review
  • Rediscovering her Polish musical roots: violinist Jennifer Pike on the personal connections in her latest disc, The Polish Violin - interview 
  • Strong and vibrant: Tallis masses and motets from the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court (★★★★) - CD review
  • Bach's Goldberg Variations - CD review
  • 2018 in opera and concert reviews - article
  • Concerto for silent soloists: my encounter with Gavin Sutherland, music director of English National Ballet - interview
  • That Old Thing: remembering Covent Garden's revivals of historic productions in the 1980s - article
  • The Medieval Tendency - article
  • Bach's Christmas Oratorio at the St John's Smith Square Christmas Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • Illuminating a neglected work: John Andrews & the BBC Concert Orchestra revive Sir Arthur Sullivan's sacred oratorio, The Light of the World  (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Seasonal touches: The Tallis Scholas & Peter Phillips at St John's Smith Square's Christmas Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • The Dead City: Robert Carsen's production of Korngold's Die tote Stadt at the Komische Oper, Berlin  (★★★★) - Opera review
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