HANDEL: Chandos Anthems No. 7, “My song shall be alway”; “O praise the lord”; “Let god arise” – Emma Kirkby, sop./ Iestyn Davies, alto/ James Gilchrist, tenor/ Neal Davies, bass/ Choir of Trinity College/ Academy of Ancient Music/Layton – Hyperion

by | Jul 9, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HANDEL: Chandos Anthems No. 7, "My song shall be alway"; No. 9, "O praise the lord with one consent"; No. 11a, "Let god arise" – Emma Kirkby, soprano/ Iestyn Davies, alto/ James Gilchrist, tenor/ Neal Davies, bass/ Choir of Trinity College Cambridge/ Academy of Ancient Music/ Stephen Layton, conductor – Hyperion CDA67737, 66:09 **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

Early in his London career Handel did not have a chance to write much massed vocal music. The operas were pretty much single-voiced affairs, and the other work normally took the guise of chamber pieces for varied instrumentation. So it was to the church that he looked for opportunities to continue the type of work so brilliantly displayed in the 1707 Dixit Dominus. Though there were several opportunities for choral expression that came his way, it was his hiring by the Earl of Carnarvon, James Brydges, later known as the Duke of Chandos, that was able to provide the composer with some needed financial rewards, even though his position as composer-in-residence did not guarantee a salary.

Chandos built a large house—not unusual for noblemen of that day—and even established it with musical forces, something not that usual. Handel was able to compose the eleven now commonly-called “Chandos Anthems” for the St. Lawrence Whitchurch, a staging church until Chandos’s newly-built chapel was completed. Most all were done between 1717 and 1718. The St. Lawrence church is the only survivor, for due to the Duke’s excessive spending he was broke upon his death, and the house and all the connected appurtenances were destroyed four years later.

But Chandos will ever be remembered for what he enabled a far greater personage to accomplish, as Handel’s anthems are among the most popular works he penned, rich in three and four-part vocal writing, sumptuous arias, and beguiling instrumental passages. The works here are all of the four-part type and sung to perfection by a stellar cast of soloists (though I still shudder when hearing counter-tenors) and the marvelous Choir of Trinity College (unashamedly using women’s voices) under the direction of the fabulous Stephen Layton, while the AAM needs no adjectives thrown its way.

This could be a landmark recording. The only compete set I know of is the one with Harry Christophers and the Sixteen, appropriately on the Chandos label. It is fine, but the typical reverb on that label leaves the door open for a competitor, and if Hyperion is smart about it they will finish the other eight post-haste!

— Steven Ritter

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