Sonata: Largo – Allegro [4'05]
Sonata: Larghetto – Allegro [3'32]
Sonata: Andante – Allegro [3'38]
I will magnify thee, O God [1'49]
Handel’s beautiful, intimate settings of liturgical texts written for the First Duke of Chandos are among his less well-known choral works—and are proved by this second volume from Trinity also to be among his loveliest. They are a perfect example of the composer’s English style heard in Acis & Galatea and oratorios such as Judas Maccabaeus.
The soloists on this recording include internationally acclaimed Handelians Susan Gritton and Iestyn Davies, and the young tenor Thomas Hobbs, whose warm, lyrical tone is perfect for this repertoire. Trinity College Choir Cambridge sing with their usual youthful exuberance tempered with elegance, style and precision, under the expert guidance of Stephen Layton.
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James Brydges—from October 1714 Earl of Carnarvon and from April 1719 First Duke of Chandos—made a fortune while serving as Paymaster General to Queen Anne’s forces abroad during the War of Spanish Succession (1703–13). He then turned his attention to rebuilding his country home of Cannons, located at Edgware, northwest of London, as a modern Palladian mansion. Brydges supported a small musical establishment and Handel was apparently engaged as a composer/performer in residence. He is first documented at Cannons on 4 August 1717 and probably remained there more-or-less continuously until the end of 1718.
For Brydges Handel composed the ‘Pastoral’ Acis and Galatea, HWV49a, the ‘Oratorium’ Esther, HWV50a, eleven instrumentally accompanied anthems and a setting of the Te Deum—the so-called ‘Chandos’ or ‘Cannons’ Anthems and Te Deum. The first eight anthems were written in pairs, each containing one celebratory and one penitential work. Four were completed by 25 September 1717 with another two in the works and the final two presumably not far behind. All were written for an ensemble of single or doubled strings without violas, single oboe and bassoon, and organ. The singers consisted of two or three men with a couple of boys on the treble line. The anthems were performed during services at the parish church of St Lawrence, Little Stanmore, which Brydges had rebuilt in the Italian Baroque style.
O come, let us sing unto the Lord, HWV253, is one of three later Cannons Anthems that employ two or three independent tenor voices. There are indications that it was written as a partner to the ‘Cannons’ Te Deum in B flat major, HWV281. The use of paired recorders in the opening tenor solo, ‘O come, let us worship’, and the presence in the autograph of the names of the two tenor soloists (‘Mr Blackley’ and ‘Mr Rowe’) may also indicate an association with Acis and Galatea, which Handel was preparing for its first performance at Cannons in late spring 1718. By this time the Cannons Concert had expanded to include multiple violins and cellos as well as a couple of additional male singers.
The anthem draws its text from Psalms 95, 96, 97, 99 and 103 in their Prayer Book versions. It begins with the customary two-movement Sonata, in this case a slow movement featuring pairs of solo violins playing in thirds followed by a quicker three-voice fugue. The opening chorus begins with a figure in long notes reminiscent of a simple psalm tone. This is contrasted with syllabic statements of ‘let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation’ in quaver motion by the four-voice chorus of soprano, two tenors and bass. The movement then continues with a fugal treatment of the text ‘Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving’, punctuated with exclamations of ‘glad’ from the text ‘and show ourselves glad in him with psalms’. The chorus ends with an early example of choral recitative, which later became a staple of Handel’s oratorio choruses.
The tenor solo ‘O come, let us worship’ is borrowed from an aria in Handel’s 1713 opera Silla, HWV10, complete with paired recorders and violins playing in thirds. It is assigned to ‘Mr Blackley’ in Handel’s autograph score. This was James Blackley, who was also assigned the first tenor part (and presumably the role of Acis) in Acis and Galatea. He was probably also the tenor soloist for Handel’s first eight Cannons Anthems.
The chorus ‘Glory and worship are before him’ almost cries out for trumpets, but had to wait forty years before Handel supplied them when he borrowed the music for the ‘Anthem on the Peace’ (How beautiful are the feet, HWV266) by way of the Chapel Royal Anthem I will magnify thee, O God, HWV250b. The lengthy chorus that follows, ‘Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King’, presents two thematic ideas in separate fugal expositions and then combines them. It also features the basses singing a series of repeated pitches to illustrate that God has ‘made the world so fast it cannot be moved’. This chorus, somewhat shortened, became part of the conclusion to the oratorio Belshazzar, HWV61, again via the Chapel Royal Anthem HWV250b.
This monumental chorus is followed by three arias. The first, ‘O magnify the Lord’ for soprano, features an accompaniment for two violins playing staccato notes; the bass instruments and the keyboard enter only when the voice is silent. The following aria, ‘The Lord preserveth the souls of the saints’, is designated by Handel to be sung by ‘Mr Rowe’—presumably Francis Rowe, for whom Handel seems to have written the role of Damon in Acis and Galatea and who later sang alto in the Chapel Royal. Although Handel writes for him in the tenor clef, his music lies consistently higher than that written for Blackley, making it more appropriate for a high countertenor with serviceable low notes. The final aria, ‘For look as high as the heaven is’, is the only one in the minor mode and was again written for Mr Blackley.
The closing chorus, ‘There is sprung up a light for the righteous’, provides a fitting conclusion to this largely celebratory anthem. Its subject and one of its counter-subjects are borrowed from a chorus in Handel’s Roman psalm Laudate pueri, HWV237. The principal counter-subject, which features repeated syllabic statements of the text ‘Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous!’, is new and this material drives the expansion of the anthem chorus.
O come, let us sing unto the Lord is the only one of the Cannons Anthems that Handel is known to have heard performed again in his lifetime. Sometime in late summer or early autumn 1739 the composer visited his friend and patron James Harris in Salisbury where he was given a concert which included this work. Although the concert was given in Harris’s house, one suspects that the choruses were performed with multiple singers per part. Handel himself, when reusing material from the Cannons Anthems in larger works for the Chapel Royal or in oratorios, did not typically rewrite the vocal or instrumental parts, thus giving his tacit approval to performances of these works in their original anthem form by choirs and orchestras as well as by solo voices and small ensembles.
The first pair of anthems included As pants the hart, HWV251b, which draws its text from Psalm 42. It is an expanded version of an anthem with organ accompaniment that Handel had written for the English Chapel Royal, probably in late 1712. The text of the opening chorus comes not from the King James Bible or the Prayer Book but rather from an anthem attributed to Dr John Arbuthnot, Queen Anne’s private physician and one of Handel’s earliest English friends. The use of this text again in 1717 was presumably a tribute to Arbuthnot, who very likely introduced Handel to Brydges.
The opening two-movement sonata features virtuosic writing for the first violin and a cleverly constructed fugue. The chorus that follows, ‘As pants the hart for cooling streams’, is built on a point of imitation that had been used throughout the seventeenth century. Although there are only three vocal parts (soprano, tenor and bass), the contrapuntal texture is often in four parts with the oboe providing the additional voice.
The soprano aria ‘Tears are my daily food’ begins with a duet between the oboe and bassoon and subsequently contrasts the languid nature of ‘tears’ with the pointed interjections of ‘where is now thy God?’. The following recitative features the first violin playing rapidly arpeggiated chords representing the agitation of the singer as he remarks, ‘Now when I think thereupon, I pour out my heart by myself’. The tenor soloist here and elsewhere in the Cannons Anthems needs a light voice with good flexibility and access to reliable high notes. The specific singer for whom Handel wrote may have been a late example of what at the end of the seventeenth century would have been termed a ‘low countertenor’.
The chorus ‘In the voice of praise and thanksgiving’ again displays Handel’s contrapuntal skill, presenting the thematic material in both its original and inverted forms. The following duet, ‘Why so full of grief, O my soul?’, pairs oboe and violin and then soprano and tenor over a walking bass. Most of the interplay is contrapuntal, with the singers posing questions to each other. This makes the moments when they sing together—such as the repetitions of ‘why’ near the end of the movement—especially dramatic.
The concluding chorus, ‘Put thy trust in God’, begins with a long florid passage for the tenor voice. Handel did not explicitly designate this to a solo voice, almost certainly because he had only one tenor singer for the initial performance at Cannons. When performed with larger vocal forces it makes sense to assign it to the tenor soloist, following the practice of contemporary Oxford-based musicians working under the direction of William Hayes, an experienced conductor of Handel’s music.
I will magnify thee, O God, HWV250a, is the celebratory anthem of its pair, which was probably the fourth to be composed. The text is drawn from Psalm 145 in the Prayer Book version with a verse from Psalm 144 added later. Written for the same vocal and instrumental forces as As pants the hart, it calls for extensive florid singing from the tenor. In its original form all the solo movements were for that voice, but at an early stage two arias (one for soprano) were added preceding the final chorus. These movements are not found in Handel’s autograph, but there is no reason to think they are not authentic.
The opening of the instrumental sonata is drawn from the Sonata à cinque HWV288, from Handel’s Italian period, with the oboe replacing the solo violin. With text added, this movement became the basis of the alto solo that opens the Chapel Royal anthem I will magnify thee, O God, HWV250b, and later part of the conclusion to the oratorio Belshazzar. The opening chorus of the Cannons Anthem, ‘I will magnify thee, O God’, derives thematic material from Handel’s Italian psalm setting Dixit Dominus, HWV232.
‘Ev’ry day will I give thanks unto thee’ is a lyrical aria for tenor and strings. It is followed by an imitative chorus, ‘One generation shall praise thy works unto another’, in one of Handel’s favourite forms: a fugue in which two contrasting texts are each given full expositions and then all the material is combined. The following tenor aria presents the text ‘The Lord preserveth all them that love him’ against a slow-moving accompaniment of staccato strings. This is contrasted with a rapid setting of the remaining text, ‘but scatt’reth abroad all the ungodly’, that features extensive passagework for the soloist illustrating the word ‘scatt’reth’.
In the earliest sources for the soprano aria, ‘The Lord is righteous in all his ways’, the oboe doubles the singer throughout; perhaps indicating that Handel had some doubts about the competence of his treble soloist. The concluding tenor aria is a curiously extended movement in which the oboe is silent. The opening motif is related to that used for the duet ‘Happy we’ in Acis and Galatea, although which was written first is impossible to say.
The concluding movement, ‘My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord’, begins with a duet for oboe and tenor over a walking continuo bass in the manner of Handel’s solos for trumpet and alto in the ‘Utrecht’ Jubilate, HWV279 and the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV74. The tenor and continuo then present the text ‘and let all flesh give thanks unto his holy name for ever and ever’ with interjections of ‘Amen’ from the other voices and instruments. The anthem concludes with an impressive imitative setting of the ‘Amen’ material in its original and inverted forms. The entire movement, somewhat rewritten, was used in the Chapel Royal Anthem HWV250b and from there was borrowed to form the final chorus of Belshazzar.
Graydon Beeks © 2013
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