HANDEL: Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HMV 74; Dixit Dominus, HMV 232 – Helene Guilmette, Sophie Klussmann, sopranos/ Andreas Scholl, countertenor/ Malcolm E. Bennett, tenor/ Andreas Wolf, bass/ Berlin Vocal Consort/Berlin Academy for Ancient Music/ Marcus Creed – Harmonia mundi 902041, 56:24 ***** [Release Date: 10/13/2009]
I must say that the Germans are starting to take quite a hankering to Handel, not just on Harmonia mundi, but on other labels as well. And they are bringing a new life to this music, something I was quite unprepared for. Perhaps it is a certain staidness that has set in the English period-instrument movement—though that is now revitalizing itself in many instances—but others are going after this music with a no-respect attitude as if England’s national naturalized composer had remained in Germany or Italy instead.
This recording has a good selection on it as the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne is not recorded that often. The best version is probably still Robert King’s on Hyperion, though I believe it is now over ten years old. Marcus Creed and forces do a fine job with it here, starting with a very affecting “Eternal source of Light Divine” that starts out the Ode. I can’t say it tops the recording made over 20 years ago by Judith Blegen and Gerard Schwartz on (then) Columbia Records, an album of baroque trumpet and soprano music. But Andreas Scholl does a good job even if the countertenor voice lacks the power we might wish for. Handel’s “Ode for Peace” which is an alternative name for this work, was composed not long after he settled in England, the text referring to Queen Anne who brought peace (Utrecht) which marked the end of the war of Spanish Succession. This is a fine work that should be played more often, and all forces involved do it credit.
But it’s not the Dixit Dominus. (HM does not even advertise this piece on the front cover of the album! What were they thinking?) This is perhaps Handel’s choral summary of his Italian style, an eight-movement work with five-voice choruses and strings that is one blazing piece of liturgical affection. Chromaticism coupled with hothouse instrumental work and probing intensely emotive singing has made this a deservedly popular piece of music that is always welcome no matter how many recordings are out there. My favorites to this point include the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi reading with the Balthasar-Neumann Choir and Ensemble (in marvelous SACD sound), the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble on BIS, Gardiner’s latest foray on Philips with a lovely Vivaldi Gloria, and as a tribute to the past, the incandescent English Chamber Orchestra and Cambridge King’s College Choir under David Willcocks.
This one can hold its own with all of the above. The choral work is excellent, stylistically apropos, and executed with requisite flair and energy. With these two pieces such an interesting coupling, I am more than certain this disc will see a lot of time in my player, and the clear and spacious sound is only an added incentive.
— Steven Ritter