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Handel: Dettingen Te Deum, Dettingen Anthem / Preston

Release Date: 10/25/1990 
Label:  Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog #: 410647   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Christopher TippingHarry ChristophersStephen VarcoeMichael Pearce
Conductor:  Simon Preston
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey ChoirEnglish Concert
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Te Deum, “Dettingen.” 1 The King Shall Rejoice, “Dettingen Anthem” 2 Simon Preston, cond; Christopher Tipping (alt); 1,2 Harry Christophers (ten); 1 Michael Pearce (bs); 1,2 Stephen Varcoe (bs); 1 Westminster Abbey Ch; Read more English Concert (period instruments) ARCHIV 410 647 (53:54 Text and Translation)

On June 27, 1743, the British army, along with forces from the kingdoms of Hanover and Hesse, defeated the French at the battle of Dettingen in Bavaria. This battle in the War of the Austrian Succession was the last time that a British monarch, King George II, would personally lead his troops into battle. That conflict would end five years later with the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle, an occasion that would again call forth celebratory music from Handel’s fertile musical imagination. It was to become one of his best-known works, Music for the Royal Fireworks.

Handel had been court composer for two decades and the allied victory meant that a large-scale celebration was due. For the planned festivities, Handel—­during the two months following the battle­—composed a celebratory Te Deum and an anthem, The King Shall Rejoice. An official victory celebration that may have been planned for St. Paul’s Cathedral didn’t take place, but in late November, following three public rehearsals, the “Anthem” and Te Deum were performed at St. James Palace in the presence of the monarch.

The Te Deum has figured in British state ceremonies of celebration and thanksgiving since the 16th century. For St. Cecilia’s Day in November of 1694, Henry Purcell composed a festive Te Deum and Jubilate and these were used repeatedly and widely for almost two decades when they were given somewhat of a back seat to Handel’s Te Deum and Jubilate composed to honor the Peace of Utrecht, which helped end the War of the Spanish succession. Three decades on, these works were replaced by Handel’s “Dettingen” Te Deum and the trio of works continued to be pressed into service for the annual St. Cecilia’s Day commemoration and the Festival Service of the Sons of the Clergy.

A festive Te Deum is not necessarily religious, but always celebratory, and as such generally basks in the splendor of trumpets and timpani. Handel was unchallenged in his ability to strike the correct note—pardon the pun—in music of this stripe, and it is precisely for this reason that his four coronation anthems, written in 1727 for George II, as well as the Utrecht and “Dettingen” Te Deums remain in the active repertoire over 200 years later.

With regard to construction and setting the words, Handel found himself influenced by Purcell’s 1694 setting and an Italian setting from the beginning of the 18th century attributed to Antonio Urio, a Franciscan monk. How Handel knew the latter is uncertain. As in a psalm, the early texts were set in separate verses, but as the 18th century progressed, verses were combined to produce longer sections that contrasted celebration with reflection and contemplation. In the “Dettingen” Te Deum, Handel gives us a gripping and effectual contrast between the festive choral episodes with trumpets and timpani and the more pensive and lightly accompanied sections for solo voices.

The “Dettingen Anthem” ( The King Shall Rejoice ) uses as its text verses from Psalms 20 and 21, its first section being identical with the first of the 1727 coronation anthems. A number of the Anthem’s instrumental interludes recall the trio sonata, showing the extent to which the anthem had assimilated elements from chamber music. The psalmist’s words are followed by an “Alleluia,” a practice common in English church music. In this chorus, one also finds a second subject (a downward melodic leap of a major seventh, a fairly common device in the Baroque era) that would later make its way into Messiah (“And with His stripes”) and also into the final chorus of the oratorio Joseph and His Brethren . Almost five decades later, Mozart would employ the same device in the Kyrie fugue of his Requiem.

Released in 1984, this Archiv recording was the only one available for a number of years. Beginning in 1999, five other recordings would appear on the market in the next decade. Berlin Classics and Arts Music released their CDs in 1999, budget behemoth Naxos fell into queue in 2001, Hänssler joined their ranks in 2004, and the most recent addition to the catalog came from Hyperion in 2008. The strongest competition for the 25-year-old Archiv recording currently under consideration comes from Stephen Layton’s release on Hyperion (reviewed by Alan Swanson in Fanfare 32:1). Layton’s disc is also graced by Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 14 in A Major, and one of the 1727 coronation anthems, Zadok the Priest.

Archiv has a meticulous and time-honored reputation for producing historically informed recordings of music from the Baroque era, many of which owned the turf from the day they were released. This recording of Handel’s celebratory music must certainly be included among them as it contains all of the regal pomp and majesty that one would associate with the idiom vis-à-vis the commanding timbre of the trumpets, underpinned by the pounding timpani. The recording also features a young tenor by the name of Harry Christophers, whose ensemble The Sixteen is universally recognized as one of the world’s greatest ensembles involved in the performance of music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The forces employed by Simon Preston are relatively modest. In addition to the three trumpets and timpani, there are four oboes (two on each of the parts), two bassoons, 21 strings (divided 6-6-4-3-2), and organ, played by the English Concert’s founder, Trevor Pinnock. The SATB choir is proportioned 8-8-4-6.

This is an energetic and well-managed recording, with precise but never mechanical execution by the band and singing that displays both the sterling quality of the soloists and the choral singing of the time-honored English cathedral tradition in a rich and reverberant setting. One finds gravitas and tenderness, but both consistently in the service of structural unity. The result is vital and stimulating, and exhibits a thoughtful balance between the printed page and instinctive musicianship. Indeed, this recording’s strong points could be included in a “How to” handbook on the art of Baroque performance.

This Archiv release is truly something special; even at the age of 25, it can and should still command the respect and admiration of Handelians everywhere.

FANFARE: Michael Carter
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Works on This Recording

Te Deum in D major, HWV 283 "Dettingen" by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Christopher Tipping (Countertenor), Harry Christophers (Tenor), Stephen Varcoe (Bass),
Michael Pearce (Bass)
Conductor:  Simon Preston
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir,  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1743; London, England 
Language: Latin 
The Lord shall rejoice, HWV 265 "Dettingen Anthem" by George Frideric Handel
Conductor:  Simon Preston
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Abbey Choir,  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1743; London, England 
Language: English 

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