'In a performance as expert and committed as this, the pealing D major choruses have an elemental boldness and grandeur of effect of which Handel invariably possessed the secret … Stephen Layton obviously believes strongly in a work that today ranks almost as neglected Handel. Under his fervent, energetic direction, Trinity College Choir (topped by a notably pure soprano line) strike a nice balance between choral-scholarly refinement and early, swashbuckling directness. The Academy of Ancient Music match them in style and panache, with superb trumpet solos from David Blackadder … Choral-orchestral balance is ideally judged in the atmospheric acoustic of Trinity College Chapel. Complementing the inspiriting performance of the Te Deum is a properly overwhelming account of Zadok the Priest … and a delightfully deft one (on a silvery-toned, six-stop chamber organ) of the A major organ concerto' (Gramophone)
- 'A magnificent Te Deum … Great singing with sprightly playing from the Academy' (Observer)
'The youthful voices of Trinity's choir sing superbly throughout, and quite magnificently in Zadok, which rounds off the disc climactically after a stylish performance of the A major Organ Concerto by Richard Marlow' (Sunday Times)
'Prepare the sand buckets: the opening of Handel's Dettingen Te Deum is incendiary. Trinity College Choir, the Academy of Ancient Music and the conductor, Layton, deal brilliantly with the reflective moments in a setting written to celebrate George II's victory over the French in 1743' (The Times)
'In a performance as precise and exuberant as this (wonderfully expressive diction from the Trinity Choir), its trumpet-and-drum-fuelled extroversion comes across as elementally exciting' (Daily Telegraph)
'The performances are brilliant … The choral singing is a model of clarity and beauty and Stephen Layton leads this magnificent performance with a true sense of occasion' (Goldberg)
'This rip-roaring Handel disc … There's no want of youthful vigour here, expressed in glorious technicolour at salient points in the martial Dettingen Te Deum and Zadok the Priest. Yet it's the disciplined refinement of the music-making that delivers the purest pleasure. Recommended' (Classic FM Magazine)
'The score simply teems with incredible invention … Layton's tempos are faultless, the Academy of Ancient Music plays as though possessed, and Neal Davies's solos lend an authority complementing the more soft-grained soloists from within the choir (itself fresh-sounding and impeccably collegiate in every sense). A stylish Zadok and nimble Organ Concerto are welcome bonuses, but if you're still to be persuaded by the Dettingen, this is the performance to do it' (BBC Music Magazine)
'There is no shortage of recordings of Zadok the Priest, but its combination with the Dettingen Te Deum and the organ concerto connected with Alexander's Feast is without rival. Stephen Layton directs the distinctive and well-balanced mixed-voice Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge with excellent players from the Academy of Ancient Music in readings that are full of vigour and rhythmic bite, exquisitely offset by the gentler musings of the contrasting slower, lyrical passages' (International Record Review)
'The Dettingen Te Deum … is a cracking work and a deservedly popular part of Handel's corpus. This recording shows off the piece's martial exuberance. The first movement, in particular, is stirring stuff, and David Blackadder (trumpet) is magnificent … The Organ concerto in A is one of Handel's most charming works, and is played happily and charmingly by Richard Marlow' (Early Music Review)
'On a new release by Trinity College Cambridge under Stephen Layton, all goes splendidly, the three trumpets and timpani adding to the rich sound … an exciting album' (Liverpool Daily Post)
To thee all angels cry aloud [2'14]
Day by day we magnify thee [3'18]
Zadok the Priest HWV258 [5'11]
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, is one of Britain’s great mixed choirs. Under its new director, the mercurial Stephen Layton, it has reached new heights of musical excellence in this latest disc for Hyperion. Accompanied throughout by the Academy of Ancient Music, the choir performs one of Handel’s most florid and dazzling works, the Dettingen Te Deum, which was written to celebrate King George II’s triumphal return from the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. As might be imagined, much of this work is thrillingly bellicose, but some highly cultivated writing shows the composer’s range, expressive versatility and imagination.
The disc also includes a stylish performance of the Organ Concerto No 14 in A major with Trinity’s former musical director Richard Marlow at the organ, as well as Handel’s best-loved and most gloriously ceremonial anthem, Zadok the Priest.
Handel devoted almost his entire career to composing, arranging, adapting, revising, rehearsing, promoting and performing works for the London stage. In addition to a substantial run of Italian operas between 1711 and 1741, which included new works and plenty of revivals, his oratorios were all envisaged for performance in theatres. A few years after his introduction of English oratorio to the public in 1732, Handel started to exploit his renown as a brilliant virtuoso organist by performing the solo part in concertos in between the acts of oratorios.
The composer’s autograph manuscript of the Organ Concerto No 14 in A major HWV296a is undated, but its paper-type suggests that he composed it in early 1739. Its first performance was probably on 20 March 1739, at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, an evening which also featured a revival of the ode Alexander’s Feast. Unlike the context of most of his other organ concertos, Handel probably incorporated HWV296a within the narrative of the main entertainment. In earlier performances of Alexander’s Feast, the recitative ‘Timotheus, plac’d on high’ had been followed by his Harp Concerto in B flat major (Op 4 No 6), which musically illustrated the text’s reference to the minstrel Timotheus playing the lyre for Alexander the Great. However, the conducting score of the ode shows that at some point—presumably 1739—the end of the recitative was recomposed in order to allow a smooth transition to inserted music in A major, the key of the organ concerto. The music for this concerto seems to have pleased Handel, who reused all four of its main movements the following October for the eleventh of his ‘Twelve Grand Concertos’ Op 6. On this recording two sections—the ad libitum and the opening of the Grave—are improvised by the organist Richard Marlow.
Handel’s prominence in British cultural life had been consolidated in February 1727 by the inclusion of his name in the Naturalization Act passed by George I shortly before the king’s death at Osnabrück (on the way to visit Hanover, which the monarch much preferred to London). The composer’s decision to become officially British fortunately granted him the legitimate status to provide four new anthems for the coronation service of King George II and Queen Caroline at Westminster Abbey on 11 October 1727. The most famous of the four newly composed pieces for the occasion is ‘Zadok the Priest’ (HWV258). Its text is paraphrased from 1 Kings 1: 38–40, and it has been performed at every subsequent British coronation. Handel presumably relished the opportunity to write grand ceremonial music for much larger forces than were available in the theatre (an eyewitness of the rehearsal claims that there were 40 singers and 160 players), but it seems that the musical contributions to the coronation service were far from smooth. The position of different groups of performers in galleries where they could not see each other left them at the mercy of the building’s notoriously tricky acoustic, and William Wake, the Archbishop of Canterbury, annotated on his copy of the printed order of service that another of Handel’s anthems (‘The King shall Rejoice’) was ‘in Confusion: All irregular in the Music’.
It is unlikely that Handel ever performed with such a large choir again. Although all four coronation anthems were incorporated into his theatre oratorios during the early 1730s, his usual choir for such concerts was about half the size of the forces that had been specially amassed for an event of iconic national importance. Nevertheless, it is likely that he envisaged the opportunity to compose and perform a celebratory choral piece on a similarly ambitious scale in the summer of 1743, when news reached London that on 27 June George II had led an army to victory against the French at the Battle of Dettingen. An early conflict in the War of Austrian Succession, this was the last occasion on which a British monarch personally led an army and fought in battle. A thanksgiving prayer was issued to be read in all churches on Sunday 17 July 1743, and that same day Handel seized the initiative by commencing work on a large-scale Te Deum. Judging from its extended form, the spacious style of choral writing and opulent scoring (including three trumpets and drums), it seems the composer expected that a large-scale thanksgiving service would be held in St Paul’s Cathedral with his musical setting of the Te Deum at the heart of the occasion, as had been done in 1713 after the Peace of Utrecht.
If so, Handel miscalculated. Britain was not yet officially at war with France, and George II’s army was a makeshift force known as the ‘Pragmatic Army’, which combined British, Hanoverian and Hessian troops. Moreover, George had reputedly fought with a Hanoverian sash, not in British uniform. Most fundamentally, the battle at Dettingen was a peripheral skirmish, not one leading to an advantageous or desired peace treaty after a difficult prolonged war (that was not to come until October 1748, with the arguably unsatisfying Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle). Thus the Elector of Hanover’s victory was of little long-term value to Britain, notwithstanding the fact it had inflated the royal ego: George II had long yearned to be a military hero, and at last his wish had been fulfilled. But the scale and manner of the victory were unlikely to cause the British government to organize a public thanksgiving in the emblematic national cathedral, not least because it would have provoked outrage from opposition politicians eager to point out how Britain’s interests were often being relegated to those of the royal family’s German province.
The last page of Handel’s autograph manuscript, on which he would have signed and dated the work upon its completion, is now lost, but on 28 July 1743 his assistant John Christopher Smith wrote to the Earl of Shaftesbury: ‘[Handel] is now upon a new Grand Te Deum and Jubilate, to be performed at the King’s return from Germany (but He keeps this a great secret and I would not speak of it to any Body but to your Lordship) and by the Paper he had from me I can guess that it must be almost finished. This I think perfectly well Judg’d to appeace and oblige the Court and Town with such a grand Composition and Performance.’
In the event, Handel did not compose a companion ‘Jubilate’, but two days later he proceeded to compose the anthem ‘The King shall Rejoice’ (HWV265, a different work to the coronation anthem with the same title). The anthem was completed on 3 August, but any remaining notion that a public ceremony might be held in St Paul’s dwindled away as it became clear that George II was not anxious to return to his British throne whilst residing for the rest of summer at Hanover.
London newspapers reported that the King would not return to England until the middle of November, which further delayed the official premiere of Handel’s new composition. George II finally left Hanover on 9 November, on which date Handel rehearsed the new Te Deum at the Banqueting House Chapel in Whitehall. Mrs Delany, Handel’s loyal friend and supporter, attended the rehearsal and enthusiastically reported to her sister: ‘It is excessively fine, I was all rapture … everybody says it is the finest of his compositions; I am not well enough acquainted with it to pronounce that of it, but it is heavenly.’ However, Jemima, Marchioness Grey, found the music ‘vastly loud & I thought not agreable’.
Six days later the King eventually arrived at St James’s Palace. Now with the prospect of an actual performance on an appropriate occasion, Handel organized a full rehearsal at the Banqueting House on 18 November, and probably expected that his music would be performed on the first Sunday after the King’s return to London. However, there was yet another postponement because Sunday 20 November was the anniversary of Queen Caroline’s death. The performance for the King eventually took place at the Chapel Royal morning service on Sunday 27 November, five months to the day since the Battle of Dettingen. It must have been an odd experience for all participants: the modest Chapel Royal at St James’s was a tiny venue in comparison to the wide open spaces at St Paul’s, thus presumably making the large-scale music loud enough to shake the walls, and the Te Deum and anthem were in an utterly different style to the more intimate and compact anthems usually performed there. Instead of a short verse anthem with a small band of instruments, a large group of musicians proceeded to play grand ceremonial music for nearly an hour. Also, it is difficult to imagine that there was sufficient room in it for both the required performers and a congregation, although the next day’s Daily Advertiser confirmed that there was a congregation, and that it also ‘heard a Sermon preach’d by the Rev. Dr. Thomas’.
The vocal parts were performed by the singers of the Chapel Royal, and accompaniment was provided by His Majesty’s Band of Musicians, and several ‘extraordinary’ performers (i.e. external musicians hired in for the occasion). The soloists included the basses John Abbot and Bernard Gates, both of whom were named in Handel’s autograph. The solos were clearly written to cater for their particular voices: the splendid trumpet aria ‘Thou art the King of Glory’ was presumably tailor-made for Gates, whereas Abbot’s solos ‘When thou tookest upon thee’ and ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord’ suggest that he possessed a softer and more lyrical voice. The countertenor soloist was probably Anselm Bayly, but it seems that he was not fond of the piece. In his Practical Treatise on Singing and Playing, published a quarter of a century later, he criticized the opening movement as ‘too complex and noisy, once voice and instrument pursuing another as fast as they can … first down hill then climbing up the same back way; till at length arrived at the top again, with much ado and out of breath, all bawl out again’.
A modern listener might disagree that such energetic musical excitement is unattractive. The stark militaristic opening gambit is like a battle drum, which hops between just two notes and swaggers with self-assurance; the antiphonal skirmish between the woodwind and brass with strings conveys a wonderful sense of momentum. For this, and also some other passages in the score, Handel was influenced by a Latin setting of the Te Deum by Francesco Antonio Urio. He might have acquired a manuscript copy of Urio’s music during his early years in Rome from Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, although it is odd that Handel—a compulsive borrower of musical material—did not use any ideas from Urio’s score until 1738 (in Saul and Israel in Egypt). He also recalled music from one of his own recent works, with the trumpet fanfare following ‘We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge’ clearly borrowed from ‘The trumpet shall sound’ (Messiah had received its controversial London premiere only eight months previously).
Some of the magnificent boldness in Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum might seem thrillingly bellicose (for example the excitable acceleration in energy from the trumpets and drums in the last few bars of ‘To thee Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry’), but some highly cultivated writing shows his range of delicacy, expressive versatility and imagination. The triple-time alto solo ‘All the earth doth worship thee’ has gracefulness in the springy interplay between first and second violins in its introduction (and is reminiscent of a similar trick used for ‘The land brought forth frogs’ in Israel in Egypt). The heart of the work is the tender ‘Thou sittest at the right hand of God’, a sensuous Andante in B flat in which a mellifluous vocal theme is shared in turns between the altos, tenors and basses, and then all three sections of the choir combine in rapturous expanding harmonies. Most surprising of all is the final movement. Instead of the belligerent militarism encountered in the dramatic opening, ‘O Lord, in thee have I trusted’ is a triple-time Andante with a graceful Purcellian melody that suggests a mood of gratitude and warmth. Handel’s last setting of the Te Deum contains plenty of ceremonial choruses in D major and brilliant trumpets, but no two movements are exactly alike; this music is a roller-coaster that plunges the listener through meticulously crafted contrasts, and it bears the hallmark of the composer’s characteristic versatility.
David Vickers © 2008