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"Music for the Peace of Utrecht"

Nicky Kennedy, sopranoa; William Towers, altob; Wolfram Lattke, Julian Podger, tenorc; Peter Harvey, bassd
The Netherlands Bach Society
Dir: Jos van Veldhoven

rec: May 2009, Haarlem, Philharmonie
Channel Classics - CCS SA 29610 (© 2010) (73'03")

William CROFT (1678-1727): Ode for the Peace of Utrecht (With Noise of Cannon)bcd; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Jubilate in D 'Utrecht Jubilate' (HWV 279)abcd; Te Deum in D 'Utrecht Te Deum' (HWV 278)abcd

Before 1800, when music was still an art without a capital A, it was a normal part of everyday life. Important events, like birthdays and weddings of royalty, didn't pass by without music being composed and performed. The same is true for political events, like military victories and the conclusion of peace. So it was only to be expected that music would be written for the Peace of Utrecht of 1713. Two years before Handel had settled in England, and it didn't take long until he was commissioned to compose music for celebratory events.

The Peace of Utrecht 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 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. 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.

Within a week after the performance of Handel's 'Utrecht' Te Deum and 'Utrecht' Jubilate another Ode for the Peace of Utrecht was performed, this time in Oxford. The composer was William Croft, one of England's most respected musicians. Croft started his career as chorister in the Chapel Royal under John Blow. In 1700 he became organist in St Anne's Church in Soho and entered the Chapel Royal again, as Gentleman Extraordinary. After the death of Francis Piggott he and Jeremiah Clarke shared his post as organist, and as Clarke died in 1707 Croft became the only organist. As a composer he took over some duties from Blow as he wrote several pieces for state occasions, and when Blow died in 1708 he succeeded him as composer, Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal and organist at Westminster Abbey. In 1713 he received a degree in music in Oxford. After his arrival in London Handel gradually became the main composer of music for ceremonies and state occasions.

The Ode was written to gain his doctorate in Oxford. He took the opportunity to link up to the current events, and asked the reverend Joseph Trapp to write a text which referred to the Treaty of Utrecht. Croft's Ode is quite different from Handel's two works, as most of it is given to solo voices. After an overture - which Croft later arranged for harpsichord - there are two solos for bass and for alto. Then follows a chorus which repeats the largest part of the text of the alto aria. Next is a duet for alto and bass, after which the choir repeats the last line of the duet: "The Soul of Musick is the Soul of Peace". Another aria for alto follows, and then the piece is concluded by a chorus, which is divided into two sections, the first for solo voices, the second for the full choir. The duet has an extended obbligato part for oboe, the second aria for alto contains a part for trumpet, reflecting the text: "Nor will we ev'n the Martial Trumpet spare, the Martial Trumpet shall our Consort share."

The three compositions on this disc are just three examples of music written for the celebration of the Peace of Utrecht. Recently Hungaroton released a recording of the Serenata for the Celebration of the Peace of Utrecht by the German-born composer Johann Sigismund Kusser which was written for a performance in Dublin (*). And I am sure there are more compositions on the same subject. Hopefully the commemoration of the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 will lead to recordings of such pieces. Handel's two works are well-known, but as they don't belong to his most frequently performed and recorded compositions this disc is most welcome. The more so because the performances are outstanding. The choir and the orchestra are in brilliant form, and Jos van Veldhoven delivers a very engaging and expressive performance. His choice of soloists turns out to be a very happy one, as they all bring good performances of their respective solo parts. Only Nicky Kennedy and William Towers use a little too much vibrato now and then. In the fourth section of the 'Utrecht' Te Deum, 'The glorious company of the Apostles: praise thee', the soloists blend well. The chorus 'O go your way' in the 'Utrecht' Jubilate is performed with subtlety and expression. There are some beautiful instrumental obbligati, like the transverse flute in 'We believe that thou shalt come' ('Utrecht' Te Deum) and oboe and violin in the duet 'Be ye sure' ('Utrecht' Jubilate).

The addition of the little-known Ode for the Peace of Utrecht by William Croft makes this disc even more attractive, especially as it is so different in character and scoring from Handel's works. Jos van Veldhoven makes a good case for Croft's Ode; the two solo parts are beautifully sung by William Towers and Peter Harvey. The are joined by the two tenors and two soloists from the choir - Barnabás Hegyi (alto) and Jelle Draijer (bass) - in the first section of the closing chorus 'Where, mighty ANNA, will thy Glories end'.

The recording engineer has done a perfect job and the booklet contains informative essays about the music in English, German, French and Dutch. It is a shame the lyrics don't include references to the track numbers and the tracklist doesn't give the incipits of the various sections in Handel's works. I also would have liked specified information about the scoring of the various sections of the three compositions. There is no indication as to which of the two tenors is singing what. The alto aria 'A milder, happier strain' in Croft contains an obbligato part for recorder, but no recorder player is mentioned in the list of players. I assume this part is played by the oboist Michael Niesemann, who to the best of my knowledge is also a recorder player. The players of the obbligato instrumental parts are not mentioned either.

But that doesn't take anything away from the quality of this recording. It is an important contribution to the commemoration of the Peace of Utrecht. May more recordings of the same quality follow in the years to come.

(*) "Two Serenatas for the Dublin Court" - Aura Musicale/Balász Máté (Hungaroton HCD 32633)

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Netherlands Bach Society

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