musica Dei donum

CD reviews

George Frideric HANDEL: Music for Cannons

[I] "Chandos Te Deum, Chandos Anthem No. 8"
Grace Davidson, soprano; Charles Daniels, Nicholas Mulroy, Benedict Hymasa, tenor; Edward Grint, bass
London Handel Orchestra
Dir: Adrian Butterfield
rec: May 11 - 13, 2017, Little Stanmore (Middlesex), St Lawrence Church
Onyx - 4203 (© 2018) (65'35")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

O come let us sing unto the Lord (HWV 253); Te Deum in B flat (HWV 281)a

Rachel Brown, recorder; James Eastaway, recorder, oboe; Nathaniel Harrison, bassoon; Stephen Keavy, trumpet; Oliver Webber, Kathryn Parry, violin; Katherine Sharman, cello; Peter Buckoke, double bass; Alastair Ross, organ

[II] "Chandos Anthems"
Florie Valiquette, soprano; Nicholas Scott, tenor; Virgile Ancely, bass; Gaétan Jarry, organa
Choeur et Orchestre Marguerite Louise
Dir: Gaétan Jarry
rec: May 22 - 25, 2021, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS072 (© 2022) (64'33")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: D/F
Cover & track-list

As pants the hart for cooling streams (HWV 251b); Chaconne in g minor (HWV 486)a; O be joyful in the Lord (HWV 247); O sing unto the Lord a new song (HWV 249b); Voluntary III in a minor (spurious)a

Caroline Arnaud, Béatrice Gobin, Laura Holm, Lucy Page, Blandine De Sansal, Virginie Thomas, soprano; Safir Behloul, Martin Candela, Stephen Collardelle, François Joron, Michael Smith, tenor; Romain Bazola, Laurent Collobert, Jérémie Delvert, Sydney Fierro, Christophe Gautier, bass
Neven Lesage, oboe; Alejandro Perez Marin, bassoon; Emmanuel Resche-Caserta, Camille Aubret, Patrizio Germone, Rebecca Gormezano, Satryo Yudomartono, Augusta Lodge, Anaëlle Blanc-Verdin, Nathalie Cannistraro, David Rabinovici, violin; Julien Hainsworth, Cécile Vérolles, Emily Robinson, cello; Gautier Blondel, double bass; Étienne Galletier, theorbo; Ronan Khalil, harpsichord, organ


When Handel arrived in England he immediately started to compose operas. But he also showed his ability to write sacred music for soloists, choir and orchestra. He composed a Te Deum and Jubilate for the celebrations of the Peace of Utrecht and the 'Caroline' Te Deum as well as an anthem for the Chapel Royal. It was not the first time he wrote this kind of music as in Italy he had already composed psalms on Latin texts. As he was probably the greatest 'recycler' in the history of music he reused material from them, and in particular from Dixit Dominus (HWV 232). He did so especially in Let God arise (HWV 256a), one of the so-called Chandos Anthems.

In 1717/18, and probably again in 1720, Handel was connected to the musical establishment of James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, who later acquired the title of Duke of Chandos. The Earl built a mansion on the estate at Cannons, near Edgware. There he established his own ensemble, which he called Cannons Concert, consisting of singers and players, a mixture of household servants and professionals. For Cannons Handel wrote some dramatic pieces, like the oratorio Esther and the masque Acis and Galatea, but also eleven anthems, which are generally known as Chandos Anthems. Some of them were original compositions, others reworkings of pieces that he had written earlier for the Chapel Royal.

The Duke of Chandos had a mansion built that was to include a chapel, but at the time Handel composed his anthems for him, that chapel was not completed. Therefore the anthems were performed during Sunday morning services at the nearby parish church of St Lawrence, which had been remodelled between 1713 and 1715. The performance conditions at Cannons are something that deserves special attention, as they were different from what was common at the time, and certainly from the conditions in the Chapel Royal. The Cannons Concert comprised only three singers: a treble, a tenor and a bass. The instrumental ensemble was rather small as well: oboe, bassoon, up to three violins, cello, double bass and organ. This explains the scoring of Handel's Chandos Anthems, in which the alto part is missing both in the vocal and in the instrumental ensemble.

Today the Chandos Anthems are available in a number of recordings. Harry Christophers recorded them all with his ensemble The Sixteen. In those recordings the line-up in Cannons is ignored, and that is the case in almost any recording of these anthems. I am not aware of a complete recording which respects the original line-up. Therefore the first disc reviewed here is of great importance. Adrian Butterfield confines himself to the forces that were involved in the performances in St Lawrence Church. And the fact that the recording took place in that same church lends this recording an even stronger amount of authenticity.

In the two pieces included here Handel explored the fact that in 1718 a third male voice joined the Cannons Concert. O come let us sing unto the Lord is scored for treble, two tenors, oboe, bassoon, two recorders, two violins and basso continuo. The solo parts are for the treble and the two tenors. The text is a mixture of verses from the Psalms 95 to 97, 99 and 103. The work opens with a symphony, which is followed by eight vocal sections. This anthem was originally written for Cannons, but Handel did make use of previously-written music, such as his opera Lucio Silla of 1713 and the Psalm Laudate pueri which Handel had written during his Italian period.

The disc opens with one of Handel's three setttings of the Te Deum. Two were mentioned above; this third setting is the longest of them. It is in the key of B flat; later Handel transposed it to A major, and revised and shortened it for use in the Chapel Royal. Graydon Beeks, in his liner-notes, states that "[the] Cannons Te Deum seems likely to have been the companion piece to the anthem O come let us sing unto the Lord and likewise to have been written around the same time as Acis and Galatea." The latter is relevant, because it requires the participation of a third tenor, and that is also the case with the Te Deum. The third tenor does not have a solo, and only participates in the choruses. Likewise, both Acis and Galatea and the Te Deum include parts for two recorders. The latter piece is unique among Handel's works for Cannons in that it includes a part for trumpet; it appears in the ninth section, 'Day by day we magnify thee'.

As I already noted, this recording is important for historical reasons, because the original line-up is respected, and also because the Chandos Te Deum is seldom performed. Fortunately the performances also do full justice to the character of these two works. The four soloists have the right voices for this repertoire, and blend perfectly, which is essential as they are in action from start to finish. The balance between the voices and the instrumental ensemble is pretty much ideal. The venue also contributes to the persuasiveness of this recording. This disc was released in 2018; I have not heard of any sequel, and that is regrettable, as we really need a complete recording of these fine anthems in their original line-up.

The second disc includes three further anthems from this set, but the performances are very different. The fact that two of them have an additional b to their catalogue number indicates that they are reworkings of previously-written anthems.

The anthems were written in pairs, and these two were probably the first pair. As pants the hart for cooling streams is a setting of a paraphrase of Psalm 42. Handel wrote the first version for the Chapel Royal in 1712; the scoring was rather modest: four voices (SATB) solo and tutti, accompanied by organ. For Cannons, Handel transposed it from D minor to E minor, reduced the number of voices from four to three, and added instrumental parts: oboe, bassoon and two violins with basso continuo. Most of the music was also reworked and an introductory sonata, with an obbligato violin part, was added.

O sing unto the Lord is a setting of verses from Psalm 96 and one verse from Psalm 93. It is an adaptation of an anthem that Handel wrote for the Chapel Royal in 1714. Here the adaptation was a different process: rather than expanding the scoring, Handel reduced it, as the first version included parts for flute, two oboes, two trumpets and four-part strings, including violas. The parts for trumpets and violas were removed or rewritten, the vocal alto parts (solo and tutti) allocated to the three other voices.

O be joyful in the Lord has no predecessor - that is to say: not in the form of an anthem, for instance for the Chapel Royal. However, it is not an original work, but an arrangement of the Utrecht Jubilate, originally performed with the Utrecht Te Deum at the occasion of the Peace of Utrecht, which brought the War of the Spanish Succession to a close. Again, Handel added introductory instrumental movements, which he took from the 'Caroline' Te Deum and the Utrecht Te Deum. For his original setting of the Te Deum, Handel fell back on material from the above-mentioned Psalm Laudate pueri. A duet of treble and bass is based on a secular duet that Handel had written in Hanover. In the Cannons anthem the trumpet part was given to the oboe.

David Vickers, in his liner-notes to this disc, states: "This recording reimagines these Anglican chamber-scale anthems in a new context at the Royal Chapel in Versailles. Gaétan Jarry uses additional instrumentalists and choir voices on account of the spacious acoustic - somewhere between Handel's own polarities of St Paul's Cathedral and St Lawrence's, Little Stanmore". That is a polite way to say that the original performing conditions are ignored here. It is true that the line-up could vary in the baroque era, but that concerns pieces that were performed more than once and that were published, which allowed for performances by various ensembles in different circumstances. In this case we deal with anthems that were written for a specific occasion, specific performers and a specific venue. Therefore I can't see any justification for adding voices and instruments. A choir of sixteen voices (six sopranos, five tenors and five basses) without altos seems rather unhistorical. An instrumental ensemble of nine violins and three cellos without violas is probably less unlikely, as such a line-up was not unusual in Italy, though probably very unlikely in England. The acoustical aspect is an important one, but in cases like this, the fact that the music does not fit the acoustical circumstances requires a change of venue rather than a change of line-up. The music should always come first.

The singing is different. I have greatly enjoyed the performances by Nicholas Scott and Virgile Ancely, which are entirely idiomatic. Florie Valiquette has a nice voice, but uses too much vibrato. That does not compromise the tutti, as the soloists don't participate in them, but damages the ensembles of two and three solo voices, in which Valiquette does not blend very well with the other two. The tutti are generally well sung, and the instrumental ensemble leaves nothing to be desired. Gaétan Jarry contributes to organ solos. Why he selected a Voluntary that Vickers calls 'spurious' and the Chaconne in g minor, which is clearly intended for the harpsichord, is a bit of a mystery.

This disc certainly has its merits, but in the end I am disappointed that the performing conditions in Cannons are ignored for reasons that are hard to defend.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Grace Davidson
Edward Grint
Nicholas Mulroy
Florie Valiquette
London Handel Orchestra
Marguerite Louise

CD Reviews