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This reconstruction of the 1727 coronation in Westminster Abbey was famous not only for the first performances of Handel’s four Coronation Anthems – ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’, ‘Zadok the priest’, ‘The King shall rejoice’ and ‘My heart is inditing’ – but also for the apparent confusions and accidents that occurred during the service itself, as reported by Archbishop Wake in annotations written on the original Order of Service. Fortunately, all the details are now published in the Handel Collected Documents (Cambridge University Press), so we know both what happened as well as what was intended.

This DVD is a reconstruction of the service, and was recorded and filmed at a live concert given in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles, in which all the music for the coronation is sung, including ‘O Lord, grant the king a long life’ (William Child), ‘I was glad’ (Henry Purcell), ‘Come holy ghost’ (John Farmer), ‘Behold O God our defender’ (John Blow), the Te Deum (Orlando Gibbons), ‘God spake sometimes in visions’ (Blow), the Litany by Thomas Tallis, and numerous fanfares and drum processions (as detailed in the original Order). It is good to hear the Handel anthems in this context, and the excellent players and singers create fine performances of these standard classics. Their ‘modern’ 18th-century style is thrown into sharp relief by juxtaposition with Tallis’s Litany and Gibbons’s verse setting of the Te Deum. However, Versailles, to my knowledge, had nothing to do with George II’s coronation or Handel’s anthems, and while one can applaud the performance of such glorious English music before a French audience in this iconic French chapel with its resonant acoustics and visual splendour (and recorded live), it would have been more appropriate for this imaginative recreation of this important English national, political and cultural event to have been filmed in Westminster Abbey.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica


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