There was more to Handel’s relationship with Caroline of Anhalt than this CD might suggest. Blessed with a lively mind and interested in science and literature, the young woman who arrived in England as Princess of Wales in 1714 had learned to sing with a celebrated castrato, is believed by some to have commissioned several of Handel’s Italian duets, and was the dedicatee of Giulio Cesare. It follows that much of the interest in the three works that mark her arrival, her 1727 coronation and her funeral only ten years later is to be found in those moments where the music seems more personal than ceremonial.
As with previous releases from Les Arts Florissants’ own label, Music for Queen Caroline is handsomely packaged. The instrumental performance under William Christie is skilfully coloured from the bright opening movement of The King shall rejoice to the musky sinfonia of The ways of Zion do mourn. Countertenor Tim Mead’s readings of ‘When thou tookest upon thee’ and ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord’ (from the Te Deum performed for Caroline in 1714) are poised and elegant. But there are significant blemishes elsewhere, from blowsy trumpets to choral entries of eye-popping flatness and untidiness. The Funeral Anthem, with its curious blend of oratorio-like drama and Purcellian intimacy, requires a pristine blend and perfect intonation. I’d rather have those than the CD’s chic design and free short story.