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Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, December 2007

"I have mixed feelings about this disc. It brings music which is seldom performed, and that makes it recommendable and Handel's music is splendid. The choir sings better than on previous discs and that is all to the good. Bowman is great, as always. But the blending and balance between the voices - in particular the adult singers - is problematic. And the choruses sometimes lack clarity, which isn't only due to the acoustical circumstances. Despite the shortcomings there is enough to enjoy and the music is too good to be missed."

Anthony Clarke
Limelight, July 2007

Here’s a splendid idea. Take four magnificent choral works by Handel, which have been rarely performed since their composition, and place them in the setting for which they were written—the chapel inside St James’ Palace. The Chapel Royal itself is not a place, but rather the term given to the collective of people, most importantly the choir, which is entrusted by the queen to perform these works. But because of primacy through age and usage, the term is also given to the actual St James’ Palace chapel. It is in this chapel that Handel would have heard these works performed for the first time. And it is in this setting that Naxos has gained permission to have these works performed and recorded. The setting gives a wonderful translucency of sound and a natural warm ambience to these pieces for choir and soloists. Handel’s anthems ‘Let God Arise’, ‘I Will Magnify Thee’ and ‘O Sing unto the Lord’ are performed with a chamber orchestra and organ. In a markedly different mode, the most sustainedly beautiful of these pieces, ‘As Pants the Hart’, is performed accompanied by continuo alone—the only one anthem Handel composed in this manner.  The boys and gentlemen of the choir are fine indeed—as one would suspect when sighting the name James Bowman among its members. This is an intensely beautiful recording of rarely-heard compositions by Handel, and the history of its choir and of its natural setting just adds to the magic of this disc.

Max Kenworthy
MusicWeb International, May 2007

This CD has the rather glorious distinction of being the first example of church music by Handel to be recorded in the building and by the choir for which it was originally intended. Following in the line of elite alumni of Chapel Royal composers (Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell), Handel’s mark on the choral tradition at the Chapel Royal was the icing on the cake before it plunged into the relative depths of Victorian blandness.

This is a perfectly presented disc of very fine music that has hitherto been long overlooked and criminally under performed. Here we find perfect choral singing and faultless orchestral playing all brought together and coordinated superbly by Andrew Gant. The orchestral playing throughout is very crisp and articulate, though the buoyancy of it in places rather overshadows the choir. You can hear this in the opening chorus of Let God Arise, where the trebles are almost inaudible against the violins when their lines are doubled. Perhaps this is the result of a combination of modern instruments and placement of microphones.

The Gentleman-in-Ordinary - a wonderfully antiquated term for the modern day Lay Clerk, given to the gentlemen of the choir who are directly employed by the monarch - are by no means ordinary. Indeed they are first-class and suitably un-operatic. Generally the light and clear tones are just right, although the basses lack a bit of grunt in the lower register.

My only slight gripe, and it is only slight, is that the trebles don’t quite have enough bite to the sound and curiously, actually sound a little short of breath in places. Although it is a perfectly pleasant and polite sound, I wonder if it could be a little more boisterous, particularly when the text commands it as in Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King from I will magnify thee.

For me, the apogee of this recording is the stunning performance of Tears are my daily food; while thus they say, where is now thy God? from As Pants the hart, HWV 251a for alto solo. James Bowman, though certainly beyond his peak, still sounds superb and is a sheer joy to listen to. This same text appears earlier on the disc in a reworked version of As Pants the hart, HWV 251d that Handel produced at a later date.

The rather confusing HWV numbering is very comprehensively explained in the detailed and interesting sleeve-notes that have obviously been meticulously researched.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

Since Handel's time these pieces have never again been performed in St. James's Palace until the present Queen gave special permission for this historic recording. By the time he took up residence in London in 1717, the eminence of the Choir of the Chapel Royal may already have been in decline, but with his appointment six years later as the official composer to the Chapel Royal, he brought new life, status and significance to their existence. I should explain that there is no such building as the Chapel Royal, the choir who carry that name being required to sing at any of the many places within the Royal Family's orbit. Yet as their most frequently visited place of worship during Handel's time was the Chapel at St. James' Palace, it did eventually - but erroneously - gain the Royal Chapel name. Probably trying to gain favour in royal circles, Handel's earliest anthem for the choir, As Pants the hart, dates from 1713, the time of his first London visit, and was obviously designed for regular use rather than large state occasions. That he was always looking to recycle music for financial reasons is apparent with an improved version (HWV 251d). The choir and its individual members inspired Handel in many ways, though this disc concentrates on works that today would not be counted among his most frequently heard. They do, nevertheless, show Handel's ability to produce a wide spectrum of sacred music for important events in royal life. The choir still exists under the same remit, and as in Handel's time it can draw upon London's finest singers, the all-important alto solos here sung by James Bowman. Sample him in track 16, the opening of O sing unto the Lord.

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