The texts of O praise the Lord with one consent
are taken from three psalms (135, 117 and 148) in the metrical versions of Tate and Brady. No opening Sonata is provided, but the first chorus has an unusually long orchestral introduction by way of compensation. The trebles alone enter with the first four notes of the opening theme, and the other voices join in on the words ‘with one consent’, a naïve but amusing touch. The theme itself resembles the first phrase of the tune ‘St Anne’, first printed in England in 1708 and now best known as the tune for Isaac Watts’s hymn ‘O God, our help in ages past’. (It also appears in J S Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV552.) However, Handel had already used a similar idea in the opening Sonata of his cantata Tu fedel? tu costante?
, composed in Rome in 1707, so the resemblance to the hymn tune is probably coincidental. Three vocally demanding solos follow, the first two (in minor keys) providing the contrasts in mood that Handel always seems anxious to maintain throughout the anthems. The last of the group, ‘That God is great’ for bass, is a reworking of a solo in the Queen Anne Birthday Ode. In the following chorus, ‘With cheerful notes’, Handel boldly uses diminuendo effects to suggest voices rising to heaven. The last solo, ‘God’s tender mercy’, again in a minor key, becomes a highly personal acknowledgement of divine compassion. Major keys return for the final pair of choruses, and the anthem is brought to an exciting close with a combination of ideas finally settling into a triumphant peal of Alleluias.
from notes by Anthony Hicks © 2009