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GRAMOPHONE ( 04/ 2019)
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Château de Versailles Spectacles

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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Robert King’s reconstruction of the musical parts of the coronation of King George II (Hyperion, 12/01) was a classic recording product of the early music movement. Like Andrew Parrott’s ‘Florentine Intermedii’ of 1986, Paul McCreesh’s ‘Venetian Coronation’ of 1989 and Robert Hollingworth’s ‘1612 Italian Vespers’ of 2012, it brought together the talents of a generation of British period singers and instrumentalists in an intelligently researched and plausible echo of a historical moment in which music played an important part. In this case the historical moment introduced to the world Handel’s four Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest among them, which only added to the allure, and King’s project went on to enjoy a healthy existence as a spectacular concert programme for a variety of large and imposing venues. This film records its visit to the Royal Chapel at Versailles in January 2018.

King has not changed the order of service that filled two CDs on that first recording, which, as he pointed out, was speculative inasmuch as there is no clear and complete record of what pieces were performed that day in Westminster Abbey in 1727. All we know of for sure are the Handel anthems plus William Child’s O Lord, grant the King a long life and one or other of Orlando Gibbons’s two Te Deums. King programmes the rest on the assumption that the Abbey raided its archive for content from previous coronations, and happily fishes out superb music by Purcell (I was glad) and Blow (Behold, O God our defender and the majestic God spake sometime in visions), plus some functional pieces by Tallis and John Farmer. Trumpet fanfares, drum processions and some lusty shouting complete the picture. The result, rather as with royal pageants today, seems consciously to set the old alongside the new, as the compact and sinewy 17th-century Englishness of Gibbons, Purcell and Blow contrasts with the more continental, suave, even dancelike manner of Handel.

Not surprisingly, the switch from audio to film has pluses and minuses. If you were expecting a visual treat to match the occasion you will be disappointed, for despite all the Chapelle’s gilt and marble this is a ‘normal’ concert, and filmed as such, the focus being very much on its 21st-century performers. There is even applause and bowing before what was clearly an interval. Yet while the CD gave you a better chance to visualise the ermine and soaring stones of the Abbey, there is a flow to the concert that gives it more of the sense of an actual happening. And it is certainly fun to see the orchestra stand and join in the singing of Farmer’s hymn Come Holy Ghost (some of them authentically head-in-copy), and a lady in the audience mouthing along to the words ‘O Lamb of God’ in Tallis’s O God, the Father of Heaven.

Though the CD obviously allowed more care to be taken over the finer details of recording and performance, the singing and playing here are of predictable high quality. A college or cathedral choir might have set a more atmospheric tone but the singing of The King’s Consort’s adult professionals is excellent, and in itself deeply coloured by the Anglican tradition, as their expert accounts of the earlier pieces show. I suspect the discs will remain the more nourishing version in the long run but this is a nice enough alternative. Boo to the film-makers, though, for running a part-reprise of Zadok over the final titles.

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