WORKS: Chandos Anthems: O praise the Lord, HWV 254; Let God Arise, HWV 256a; My Song shall be alway, HWV 252
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), James Gilchrist (tenor), Neal Davies (bass); Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge; Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67737
With Handel’s stock never higher it might seem that the anniversary year needs do no more than spotlight a few under-acknowledged operas or champion the odd neglected cantata. But, as Stephen Layton’s disc reminds us, core repertoire can slip off the radar.
Twenty years have elapsed since The Sixteen laid down the Chandos anthems complete, and a decade since the Sainte-Cécile Acadamie offered a more intimate view.
Timely, then, that hot on the heels of an eminently persuasive Dettingen Te Deum last year, the Trinity Choir and Academy of Ancient Music have turned their gaze to three of the anthems Handel composed for the not-yet elevated Duke of Chandos.
The anthems might lack the trumpet and drums ceremonial pomp and circumstance of their Coronation cousins, but there is vintage Handel to be gleaned here. Layton never over-inflates the music but rather invigorates it through carefully detonated points of detail: the explosive choral entry which cuts the polite bluster introducing ‘Let God Arise’ is a good example.
His choir wears its youthfulness with ease, though it’s not exempt from that collegiate archness which can militate against genuine characterfulness; and whereas Handel would have settled for soloists from the Earl’s specially retained choir, Layton offers luxury casting, Iestyn Davies and Neal Davies on particularly commanding form.
‘Righteousness and equity’ from ‘My song shall be alway’ might give off a Village-People-meets-Pachelbel vibe, but the only thing missing on this disc are the words ‘Vol. 1’. Such ‘Handel with care’ deserves nothing less. Paul Riley