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Handel - Chandos Anthems, Vol.1 - Classics

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Handel was fundamentally a theatrical composer, in the sense that no matter what the genre, his guiding principle seems to have been that the ultimate purpose of music is to entertain, to keep the audience in–if not on the edge of–their seats, and to keep them coming back for more. Even his sacred works have the power to profoundly affect listeners of all kinds–how else do you explain, say, Messiah’s extraordinarily broad appeal across centuries and continents, even to the “non-religious”? The overtly dramatic features of his religious music are never cheap or irreverent; rather they are integrated in a way that does no less than glorify the subject and make it memorable. And Handel reeled off these reams of catchy tunes, fancy, virtuosic airs, rousing, invigorating choruses, and vibrant, colorful orchestral numbers with a facility that seems almost spontaneous. And yes, we do come back for more.

Which brings us to the Chandos Anthems, a set of 11 extended works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra based on Psalm texts that Handel composed during his stint as “composer-in-residence” at the Cannons estate of James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, later to become Duke of Chandos. The three anthems presented here were among the last composed, and they feature four-part choruses as opposed to the earlier three-part configurations. It’s safe to say that if you love Handelian choruses and solo arias, you will find here some of his more exciting, technically dazzling, eminently repeatable creations, invariably uplifting in mood and ideally performed by a first-rate choir and orchestra, magnificently recorded in the complementary acoustics of the chapel at Cambridge’s Trinity College.

I have to say that Emma Kirkby’s voice has only improved with age; her tone is warmer and rounder, and her interpretive instincts, always sound, are fully on display here. The other three soloists are equally strong, but I was particularly impressed with tenor James Gilchrist’s brilliant rendition of “Like as the smoke vanisheth” in Let God arise and with bass Neal Davies’ consistently rich, vibrant tone and informed musicality. This choir always is a pleasure to hear–singers this well trained and intelligent don’t put a foot wrong anywhere–and the orchestra needs no confirmation of its baroque music- playing credentials. Conductor Stephen Layton seems to be popping up everywhere these days–and we’re all the luckier for that. May we hope that these same forces will soon add the rest of the Chandos Anthems to the catalog?

David Vernier

Handel - Chandos Anthems, Vol.1
Hyperion Records CDA67737