HANDEL: Dixit Dominus, HWV 232; Zadok the Priest, HWV 258; The Ways of Zion Do Mourn, HWV 264 – Felicity Palmer, Margaret Marshall, Norma Burrowes, sopranos/ Charles Brett, John Angelo Messana, countertenors/ Richard Morton, Alastair Thompson, Martyn Hill, tenors/ David Wilson-Johnson, Stephen Varcoe, basses/ Monteverdi Ch. and Orch./ John Eliot Gardiner – Erato Veritas 08256 4619530 5 (2 CDs), 85:10 [Distr. by Warner Classics] ***1/2:
It is fascinating to compare the early Gardiner (these are 1976-78 recordings) with the established gentleman we know now with the vast recorded legacy behind him. This particular album proves a bit of a mixed bag to me—the Dixit and Coronation Anthem No. 1 (Zadok the Priest) were released again in 1992 on Erato, and to great acclaim even 15 years after they were first offered. These are conventional-instrument readings done right at the time when the period movement was really starting to get its sea legs—meaning they could play in tune with some semblance of interpretative nuance. But they are definitely transitional—the Dixit is measured and not all that exciting, even though the singing features an all-star cast, while Zadok positively drags in the opening measures, far more than what contemporary listeners will have grown used to. I used to enjoy these types of “bridge” readings, and still do to some extent, though I must admit that even I have become more converted to the new ways than I might like to admit.
The Ways of Zion Do Mourn, or the Funeral Anthem done to honor the lamented Queen Consort of George II, Caroline of Ansbach, has not been recorded as much as the warhorses on disc one of this collection, and Gardiner’s reading, still measures but in possession of a finely-graded sense of pathos and remembrance, fares much better. The Monteverdi Choir sounds spectacular, and the recording at this point in time—when many labels were experimenting with all sorts of idiocy—is fresh, open, deep, and wonderfully resonant.
At the price many will be attracted to this, the estimable Veritas productions offering some great bargains.