, October 2010
Nowadays the British pride themselves on their ability to arrange great state occasions but that was not always the case. The coronation of George III in 1727 was marred by the existence of two running orders, and in particular some confusion as to the order in which the Anthems would be sung. In addition the performers were placed in two specially erected galleries separated by the altar which made coordination difficult. Despite this the anthems, especially Zadok the Priest, became popular and no Handelian’s library is complete without at least one recording of them.
The original performance was said to be by “40 Voices, and about 160 violins, Trumpets, hautboys, Kettle-drums, and Bass’s proportionable”. I am not aware of any recordings which have attempted to emulate this, in particular the proportion of singers to orchestra, although there are several which use period instruments and male voices; it is, by the way, arguable that some women did sing at the original performance due to a shortage of boys in the Chapel Royal at that date. The present performances use modern instruments and a mixed voice choir. The number of performers is not given but the orchestra in particular does not sound to be anywhere near the size of that used at the original performance. Nonetheless what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in the sheer splendour of its sound and in the buoyancy of the rhythms. This is typical of the style of the Academy at that date, and even an enthusiast for period performance must admit that these performances do capture the scale, energy and imagination of these works to perfection. It is extraordinary to realise just how much expectations as to choral and solo singing have changed in the last twenty-five years but it would be hard to equal the panache and delicacy—as required—of this recording. The soloists do not have much to do but do it well. The only oddity is the very subdued playing of the whole of the introduction to Zadok the Priest but this does serve to emphasise the impact of the choir’s entry. The disc is completed with three short excerpts from “Judas Maccabaeus” which are enjoyable but make limited impact out of their original context.
All in all this is a very desirable reissue whose only fault is its very short length. The cover states that the total time is 60:00 but in fact it is just under 45 minutes. Personally I would regard this as a case where high quality outweighs small quantity but given the number of Academy recordings from this period that are currently unavailable it is a pity that more could not have been offered. I would nonetheless urge you to ignore this point and instead concentrate on the quality of the music and performances on offer here.