Handel: Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne; Dixit Dominus
PERFORMER: Hélène Guilmette, Sophie Klussmann (soprano), Andreas Scholl (countertenor), Malcolm E Bennett (tenor), Andreas Wolf (bass); Vocal Consort Berlin; Academy for Ancient Music, Berlin/Marcus Creed
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902041

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The unbridled spontaneity of Handel’s music from his brief but extremely influential period in Italy is nowhere more evident than in Dixit Dominus, his first surviving choral work. From the emphatic choral cries of the opening, through the mysterious winding stream of ‘De torrente’ to the exuberant Gloria, this is music unsurpassed in his maturity.

The 21 voices of the Berlin choir sing with clarity, verve and, in the Gloria, dazzlingly fast runs – and there’s no holding back as the tempo increases further at ‘et in secula’. Of the soloists, Andreas Scholl is outstanding; with lute and organ colouring the continuo, he sings ‘Virgam virtutis…’ in gloriously expansive lines and seemingly inexhaustible breath. The sopranos are less convincing.

Hélène Guilmette acquires a rather edgy quality and intrusive vibrato half-way up her dynamic range, creating two quite different timbres, and both sopranos make hard work of their broad, cumulative entries over the fast running bass of ‘Dominus a dextris’.

Although Handel wrote the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne in 1713, only shortly after settling in London, he quickly absorbed English traditions.

The opening duet between trumpet and countertenor recalls Purcell, and is splendidly done; Scholl matches the Akademie’s trumpeter spaciously and with effortless ease. His duet with Andreas Wolf, a fine bass, is no less effective in ‘Let rolling streams’ over another Purcellian device, a ground-bass on which Handel invents a stream of imaginative variations.

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Studio recording is technically excellent and, despite my lingering reservation about the soprano soloists, this is warmly commended. George Pratt