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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): "Utrechter Te Deum & Jubilate"

Christina Landshamer, Anja Scherg, soprano; Reginald Mobley, alto; Benedikt Kristjánsson, tenor; Andreas Wolf, bass
Gaechinger Cantorey
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: Sept 9, 2018 (live), Stuttgart, Liederhalle
Carus - 83.310 (© 2019) (79'20")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Il pastor fido (HWV 8a) (overture; allegro; menuet; adagio; allegro); Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (HWV 74); Te Deum & Jubilate in D 'Utrecht Te Deum & Jubilate' (HWV 278 & 279)

Georges Barthel, transverse flute; Daniel Lanthier, Julia Ströbel-Bänsch, oboe; György Farkas, bassoon; Hans-Martin Rux-Brachtendorf, Astrid Brachtendorf, trumpet; Nadja Zwiener, Rahel Mai, Jonas Zschenderlein, Gundula Mantu, Regine Freitag, Adele Drechsel, Margret Baumgartl, Lotta Suvanto, Regine Schröder, Anne Roser, Julia Greve, violin; Yoko Tanaka-Zschenderlein, Lothar Haass, Almut Schlicker, Michael Hanko, viola; Joseph Crouch, Thomas Pitt, Joachim Hess, cello; Christine Sticher, Benjamin Wand, double bass; Andreas Arend, theorbo; Michaela Hasselt, harpsichord; Fabian Wöhrle, organ

The disc under review here brings us to the early stages of Handel's career in England. The four pieces included in the programme were all written within a couple of years, and there is even a connection in content between the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne and the Utrecht Te Deum & Jubilate.

After his return from Italy, Handel entered the service of the Elector of Hanover, the future king George I of England. During the time of his service he stayed several periods in England, where he presented himself as a composer of operas. In 1711 English audiences enjoyed the performance of Rinaldo. The next year Handel performed his Il pastor fido; the programme on this disc opens with an instrumental suite from this opera.

At the same time, Handel came into contact with the monarchy, more in particular Queen Anne (1665-1714). In 1702 she succeeded William of Orange, widower of her sister Mary. Anne was plagued by poor health throughout her life, and from her thirties she grew increasingly ill and obese. This explains why Handel's birthday ode, written for Anne's birthday on 6 February 1713 was probably performed in a private setting. The author of the text of the Ode was Ambrose Philips who praises the Queen's virtues as peacemaker. This is particularly expressed in the first chorus (with alto solo): "The day that gave great Anna birth, who fix'd a lasting peace on earth". This is used as a refrain and refers to the Peace of Utrecht of 1713. The opening movement is one of Handel's most beautiful creations: a duet of alto and trumpet, over chordal string playing, on the text "Eternal source of light divine! With double warmth thy beams display, and with distinguish'd glory shine to add a lustre to this day." After the first chorus we hear a duet of two sopranos, which - after the refrain - is followed by another solo for alto. The next refrain is for chorus with soli for soprano and alto, which is followed by a duet of alto and bass and the refrain. Then another duet for two sopranos follows, the refrain is again for chorus with soli for soprano and alto, then we get a solo for bass, the refrain again, and the piece closes with a chorus for alto solo and double choir "United nations shall combine to distant climes the sound convey that Anna's actions are divine."

The Utrecht Te Deum & Jubilate were written at the occasion of the Peace of Utrecht, which was definitely something to celebrate. It ended a 13-year period of war, the War of the Spanish Succession, which was tearing the whole of Europe apart. About 400,000 people had been killed in the process. As a result of the treaty a balance of power was established in Europe which would last until the French Revolution, and which brought the continent in more or less smooth waters. Wars were taking place but were mostly limited to parts of Europe.

In March and April 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht was to be signed, but Handel had finished composing the Utrecht Te Deum in January of 1713. It was to be performed in St Paul's Cathedral in London, probably in March or April, as the rehearsals took place in March. But is was only in July that a service of thanksgiving was held. In the meantime Handel had also written the Utrecht Jubilate, and therefore these two works are usually performed together, which was also in line with tradition. They are different in that the Te Deum is mostly written for choir, with relative short episodes for solo voices, whereas there are more extended solo sections in the Jubilate. The scoring is the same as Henry Purcell's Te Deum & Jubilate of 1694, and both the role of the trumpets and the fact that the choir is mostly divided into five parts show Purcell's influence. Handel had clearly studied his music closely and took inspiration from it.

The text of Te Deum, which opens with the words "Thee, O God, we praise", is assumed to date from the 4th century, but maybe much older. It takes a central place in the Ambrosian hymnal and disseminated across Europe. In the course of history the text was set many times, often in connection with official occasions, such as a peace treaty or a military victory. The Jubilate is a setting of Psalm 100: "O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands". Whereas elsewhere the Latin text was used, for instance by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Handel used the text from the Book of Common Prayer used in the Anglican church.

The Utrecht Te Deum was Handel's first major sacred work in English. It made a strong impression: it was performed in St Paul's Cathedral every other year - in alternation with Purcell's setting - during the annual Festival of the Sons of the Clergy, until it was replaced in 1743 by the Dettingen Te Deum. Parts of the Jubilate were later reworked for the Chandos Anthems.

There is no lack of recordings of the Utrecht Te Deum & Jubilate that are really good. Although I have not heard all recordings of the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, those I have heard did not particularly satisfy me. I am much more positive about what is on offer here. The alto Reginald Mobley plays a central role in it, and that is something to enjoy. He has a lovely voice; I have heard him recently on disc and in two concerts at the Utrecht Early Music Festival of 2022, and on all occasions he made a very good impression. That is confirmed here; the opening section of the Ode - one of the most beautiful pieces Handel has written - receives an excellent performance by Mobley and trumpeter Hans-Martin Rux-Brachtendorf. Christina Landshamer does well too, but should have reduced her vibrato a little more. Andreas Wolf has a powerful voice, which is needed in 'Let envy then conceal her head'. In the Utrecht Te Deum & Jubilate all the soloists participate, mostly in ensemble, and overall their voices blend well, although again Landshamer is a bit of a problem now and then. Both choir and orchestra are in excellent form, and considering that this is a recording of a live performance, one can only admire the level of singing and playing, under the firm direction of Hans-Christoph Rademann, who apparently knows his way in Handel too.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Benedikt Kristjánsson
Reginald Mobley
Andreas Wolf
Gaechinger Cantorey

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